Open Eyes, Changed Lives

“Hey Larry, did you get a haircut? Lose weight? Is that a new tunic?”

“No.”

“Well, something’s different. What is it?”

“I was blind, but now I can see!”

Okay, perhaps that exchange did not take place for the man born blind from John 9, but I like to think that it did.  Unique among all of the gospel accounts, this one relates a large amount of the “after story.” It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that those experiencing the most amazing miracles would have had interesting encounters afterward. What was life like in the Lazarus household after the man walked out of that tomb? Did Mary and Martha break out in tears every time they looked at their brother? Did Lazarus ever feel tempted to use his unique experience to get out of work? “Yeah, I guess I could clean the gutters. Of course I was dead for a while.”

In the case of this “man born blind,” we get at least a glimmer of the repercussions that came for this man and the people around him. There are people who knew him or who at least had been around him who struggled with the whole thing. Some of them assumed that it was just somebody who looked like him, while others were just confused. “He was blind from birth.”

When the (formerly) blind man wound up in front of the Pharisees, they didn’t quite know how to process the situation. John’s account presents some pretty good critical thinking for at least some of them.

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a sinful man perform such signs?” And there was a division among them.–John 9:16

After that division, perhaps, someone came up with a possibility that could reconcile the parties. What if this guy is just faking it? Maybe he wasn’t blind at all, which would allow Jesus to be a fraud rather than powerful and theologically difficult. That’s when they summoned the man’s parents in 9:18.

The best that we can tell is that only one person–the man born blind–came to faith in Jesus out of this encounter. Presumably it changed his life as he, upon hearing that Jesus is the Messiah, refers to Him, for the first time, as “Lord” and worships Him. That’s the best part of the after story.

This after-story effect suggests the effect of the gospel as a whole. If we experience the miracle of salvation, if we allow Jesus to transform our blindness into sight, if we trot off to wash in the pool, and no ripples or giant waves come from the splash, then did we really encounter a miracle?

I ask that because I know that many people within the church are living lives similar to those “blind” Pharisees. They do religious things and know religious knowledge, but they don’t all fall down and worship Jesus as Lord. They don’t always react to what they can see right before their eyes. That’s a shame for them.

It’s a shame for me at times as well.

What’s an Ark?

About fifty years ago, a certain now-disgraced comic created a routine based on Noah. One of the memorable bits of this script was Noah being utterly flummoxed when instructed to build an ark. “What’s an ark?” he asks.

In Genesis 6:14, Noah is told

Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it with pitch inside and outside.

While we have no record of Noah asking what an ark might be, he would be perfectly justified in doing so. First of all, we have no record of boats in the pre-flood years. Did people use boats to go out and fish in those days? Did they run cruise lines? I can’t say for sure, but that’s not really the point. God didn’t say “Make yourself a boat of gopher wood.” He said, “Make yourself an ark.”

So what is an ark? My first inclination would be to look for other arks in the Bible. We all know that the other famous ark, the Ark of the Covenant, is sealed up in a wooden crate and hidden away in some gigantic government warehouse, thanks to Indiana Jones. Is that at all similar to what Noah was to build?

First popping up in Exodus 25, the word used for the ark of the covenant is ‘arown. Actually, I misspoke when I said it first showed up in Exodus 25 as it is rendered “coffin” in Genesis 50:26. This word appears 202 times in the Old Testament, most of them referring to the ark that David danced in front of.

Noahs_Ark_Italianate_mural_WEB_821x800The “ark” Noah was instructed to build was tebah, a word that appears 26 times in the Old Testament. Of those usages, 24 are in Genesis 6-9 and pertain to the thing that Noah built. The only other two appearances are in Exodus 2, describing the basket used to save baby Moses. In fact, there’s not a really great reason why tebah is translated as “ark.” It could be argued that Noah’s version was box-like, but can the same be said of Moses’ ark?

There is a significant difference between tebah and ‘arown. While the ‘arown ark is a box or chest that things are put into, it does not save anybody. Contrary to what the Indiana Jones version suggests, an army carrying the ark can be defeated. That ark is not a vehicle of salvation; it is a symbol of a convenant.

On the other hand, both examples of a tebah ark are vehicles (literally and figuratively) of salvation. Noah’s tebah preserves a righteous remnant of humanity in a time when things had gotten utterly dark. Moses’ tebah preserves a chosen child during a period when Hebrew babies were being exterminated. Absent either of these, the later story of salvation could not have carried on–at least not without huge changes.

What’s an ark? In this case, it is a vessel created by human hands to perform God’s work of salvation.

 

I Can’t Look! You’re Gonna Fall!

Afraid of HeightsI have, among other slight psychological disorders, something that I call, Vicarious Acrophobia Syndrome. VAS (which is not included in the the American Psychological Association’s DSM-5, is a very real problem. It means that you have fear of heights for someone else. Just to be clear, I have very real fear of heights for myself. Only in recent years have I gotten to where I can scale a ladder and get onto my own roof, but watching somebody, like this fool sitting on the edge of oblivion in the photo, makes me crazy.

I first recognized my struggle with VAS back at Boy Scout camp a number of years back. As an adult, I had been enlisted to help out with an evening’s adventure, guiding boys to scramble up a challenging but not terribly dangerous rock formation. I say that it was not terribly dangerous, but the top of the formation was also the top of a 60-foot cliff.

The guys in charge of the outing had me go up the rocks first. “Just keep everyone from going crazy up there,” they told me.

To me, the way that you keep from going crazy at the top of a cliff is to hold onto a tree–or better yet lash yourself to said tree–30 or 40 yards away from the edge. Instead, these boys would walk up to the brink of the cliff and stare down into the void. I thought I would die.

My rational mind knows that a 12-year-old boy can stand on the edge of something–a rug, for example–look down, and not totter over onto the floor. Why shouldn’t he be able to stand on the edge of a cliff? That’s my rational mind, but my VAS-afflicted, emotional mind was going crazy.

Why am I thinking about this today? That’s probably fodder for another entry, should I ever get around to it, but thinking about my lifelong struggles with VAS leave me wondering about a struggle I don’t have.

Every day, I see people who are standing on the brink of an eternity in hell just as surely as those Boy Scouts were standing on the brink of the cliff. And while those Boy Scouts were not about to suddenly plunge to their deaths, these unsaved people will someday face death and plunge into that doom unless something brings them to Christ.

Why do I, the VAS-obsessed guy, not have a similar dread of their very real fate?  Why is a highly-unlikely physical risk so much more frightening to me than a completely-certain spiritual risk? I wish I could answer that. More importantly, I wish I could generate the sort of empathy for those standing on the brink of hell that I have for those standing on the brink of a cliff.

A Blessing for Most?–Mark 1:34

and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

As I write this, I’m watching students take a final exam. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of things duller than watching people take exams. Exam day, coming at the end of the semester, as the burden of studies is lifted from their backs, should be a day of great relief and happiness. For many of them it is, but for some–for example, the young man seated just to my right–it’s a day of excuses and worries. In the class testing right now, many of them have done brilliantly. Another significant group has performed solidly. They’re not literature types, which is fine, but they’ve studied hard, gritted their teeth, and written the papers. They hand in their exams fairly confident of a B. That’s not too bad.

I’d love to come in to an exam and say, “You’ve all done great. Just answer these questions and you’ll be happy with the outcome.” All I can say, though, is “Many of you have done great.” Hearing that “many,” the young man to my right would be thinking, “Yeah, many but not me.”

This student has made his own situation. To his credit, he owns that situation. But what about the people who came to the door in search of Jesus in Mark 1:34. Those “many” with sicknesses or possessed by demons. Do you notice that Jesus apparently didn’t heal all of them. Had he healed them all, my guess is that the text would say that he healed “all.” In fact, back in Mark 1:5, we read that “all the land went out to him.” Surely that doesn’t mean that absolutely every man, woman, and child in the land came out, leaving nobody back home. If Mark says “all” when he means “a whole lot,” wouldn’t he say “all” when he meant “all”?

Why did Jesus not heal “all” of the people who came to the door? What did those people think? We can’t really answer these questions, but they make good fodder for winter-night discussions. The best answer I can answer is essentially the one that Job received: “He’s God and he doesn’t have to answer to the likes of us.”

Blessings seem to come to people who don’t deserve them, while bad stuff falls on some marvelous homes. Why? I don’t know. Why is my family so healthy, while others seem to endure a parade of illness? Why does God seem to bless “many” of his most loyal followers but not “all”?

Mark offers no answers here, nor does he record any answer from Jesus. In fact, Jesus never seems to acknowledge the question. Apparently, this apparent “unfairness” is just the way that life goes. Perhaps there’s a divine logic that we cannot perceive, but perhaps it’s just life.

What I do know is that our call is not to decide who is saved and who is not, who is healed and who remains ill, who is blessed and who is not blessed. Our call is to respond to Jesus without question. I’ll trust him to work out the details properly.

Out of Egypt (Hebrews 3:16-19)

Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:16-19)

I left Egypt with the rest of my people. Who could complain when years of brick-making came to an end? Who wouldn’t have joined in the great procession out of the land of the Pharaoh? When Moses said, “Let my people go!” I was one of those people. Those were good days. I crossed the dry ground with walls of Red Sea water on either side, marveling at the power and protection we witnessed.

That deliverance did not keep me devoted to God. It didn’t keep me from grumbling about our food or clamoring for a Golden Calf. I hardened my heart, to use Moses’ phrase. I became part of the problem.

God took me out of Egypt and delivered me from slavery, but he would not permit me to cross into the land of promise. He wouldn’t allow me to enter into his rest.

That rest, that land, would be sweet. I’ve seen the bunches of grapes so huge it took two men to carry. I long for the taste of those grapes, for the plenty that they represent. I long for a taste I’ll never know.

I cannot go back to Egypt, cannot rejoin that life before I saw the saving power of God. Somehow I think I’d be happier if I’d never heard of Moses, never left my life of brick-making. Don’t get me wrong. I realize that I’m better off out of Egypt, out of slavery, but I can’t get the taste of those grapes out of my mind. It’s the taste of regret for what I might have had, who I might have been.

How does the Christian, the person who walked an aisle or got “fire insurance” feel? Probably about the way that our wandering Israelite felt. It’s probably easier–but certainly not better–to remain dead in sin than to accept Christ’s sacrifice and then live in rebellion.

How Great a Salvation (Hebrews 2:3)

how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:3)

As I write this entry, a week before it appears on the site, I wake to the news that Osama Bin Laden is no more. One of my Facebook friends suggested that the man died of “natural causes.” After all, he thought, if you attack this nation, it’s only natural that such a thing would happen. Such nationalistic chest thumping seems to be going around today.

While I have no affection for Bin Laden, I’m not all that celebratory this morning. His death is not our salvation just as the end of World War II did not prove our salvation. News such as today’s does provide some relief. Stop the killing in Darfur. Stop the dying from cancer. Shelter the victims of the Alabama tornados. These are all worthy goals, but they’re only intermediate goals.

Perhaps the death of Bin Laden has saved lives of potential victims. As positive as that is, those victims will still die. Similarly, any saved in Darfur, cured of cancer, or protected in Alabama will succumb to a greater threat: death itself.

Only Christ provides the great salvation spoken of by the author of Hebrews and required by each of us. Only Christ provides a salvation that does not expire with time. Only Christ provides a salvation that allows a new threat to rise in the place of the old threat. Only Christ provides a salvation not dependent on our abilities.

Some measure of justice has been achieved for the victims of 9/11, but in reality their need was not for justice but for mercy. Each of them lived as a sinner in need of redemption. As tempting as it might be today to trust in military might, political leadership, or nationalistic fervor, all of these pale next to the salvation provided by Jesus Christ.