Blindness, Sight, and Everything in Between
“Do you see anything?” asked Jesus. The blind man looked left and right. “I see people,” he said. “But they look like trees walking around.” He could see for the first time in his life—but only vaguely. Then Jesus placed His hands on the man’s eyes another time. Suddenly, all was clear. Jesus had transformed his hazy vision into sight.
A blind man, touched by Jesus, comes to miraculous sight: how much simpler or more satisfying a metaphor can we get for the Christian journey? It gives a clear message of how Jesus works—a roadmap of our relationship with Him.
One element of the story is strange, though: why does it take multiple times for Jesus to heal the man’s affliction? Jesus is all-powerful; Christians know that to be true. Why, then, does His first attempt at healing the blind man not give him immediate clarity? Why does Jesus leave him for a time in a halfway stage between blindness and sight? This is a detail that we may pass over when reading this passage. It is a crucial point, though, for understanding why we experience Christianity the way we do.
Most of Jesus’ New Testament healings of the blind teach us a simple dichotomy: there is blindness or there is sight. In all of these miracles except one—the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, retold above—Jesus instantly transforms the person’s blindness into sight. Unlike in Mark 8:22–26, these miracles do not involve an intermediate step. From these stories, we might take away the understanding that Jesus can instantly heal our ills. But they do not give us the full picture of what the Christian journey is like.
Let me explain what I mean by that. Blindness, as a symbolic state, almost always represents a condition of non-understanding. In the New Testament, it stands for the starting point of a person’s walk with Jesus—the point at which the blind person does not yet know Him. If we take this symbol out of the Bible and look at it in terms of people’s lives, blindness is a point that looks different for everyone. For some of us, it looks like ignorance: we have not had the opportunity to be touched by the teachings of Jesus. For others, it involves conscious rejection: we have encountered Jesus, perhaps in reading or in wider culture, but we have spurned or ignored Him. For me, specifically, it looked like a semblance of a Christian life: I was baptized, confirmed, and a member of a local church, but nonetheless completely distant from Jesus and wholly unacquainted with His ways. All of us, no matter our exact experiences, are precisely like the blind men of the New Testament before Jesus touches them, lacking all conception of what life could or should look like.
Sight, as a second symbolic state, represents a destination— a point of triumph, per se. In the context of Jesus’ miracles, it is the point at which a person has been healed. In our lives, it is the point at which we see Jesus’ world clearly, and have come to love Him above all else. We have a clear indication of who we need to be and what we need to do. This, however, is a very conceptual picture. What does this kind of “sight” in Jesus actually look like? What I have come to realize is that no one really knows. Pastors, priests, devout Christians: none actually know what perfect love for and clarity in Jesus is. Because we are imperfect, not a single one of us has ever gotten there.
That is why I believe in the importance of Mark 8:22–26. What this story tells us is something we already subconsciously know: there exists a step (and a rather large one) between not knowing Jesus at all and loving Him perfectly.
This is something many Christians miss. In our haste to proclaim our victory and redemption, we overlook the substantial gray area between the point of blindness and the point of sight. In the Christian community, it is easy to fall into thinking that an intense love for Jesus— a clear sight—should come instantaneously once we have accepted Him into our lives. I, personally, have faced more Christians than I can count who have told me, “From the moment Jesus came into my life, I knew He was the only one for me, and I loved Him more than anything else.” When I read the Bible, too, I see accounts in Acts in which thousands of people rapidly proclaim their faith in Jesus and believe. But I have never felt that way; even after years of calling myself a Christian, I have never had an instantaneous moment in which the world fell away and only Jesus stood in front of me as my goal, a moment in which I really, truly loved Jesus and nothing else. For a long time, that gave me a feeling that I had gotten something wrong, a large niggling doubt that maybe none of Christianity was actually real.
But then I read this story in the Gospel of Mark. What it revealed to me was something that we miss when we read other stories about Jesus’ healing of the blind: an intermediary stage between blindness and sight. What Mark 8:22–26 told me was that in the other accounts of Jesus healing the blind, we may only be getting the bright and shiny, packaged-up part of the story. From the account of the blind man at Bethsaida, we get the whole metaphor: Jesus touches us once, and we begin to change, but only in repeated contact with Him can we fully achieve sight. In terms of our lives, we see that most other stories of the miracles of sight leave out that messiness in between—the gray area between the moment Jesus touches us for the first time and the moment He becomes our everything.
In reality, getting from the starting point of blindness to the destination of sight is a process, not a flip of the switch. And it is often a lengthy one. In between the points of blindness and sight, we experience a fuzzy time in which Jesus’ world is indistinct, a time in which we cannot see clearly, and people may “look like trees walking around.”
Jesus works a slow but resolute effect on our lives, transforming the way we see things little bit by little bit. Day to day, we do not fully see His face, nor the beauty of the world in light of His death and resurrection, but we are getting to know it. We might pick up the Bible off the shelf or from a bookstore. We might start to go to church and really listen to the sermon. We might begin experimenting with prayer. In some combination of these actions, we start to catch glimpses of what Jesus looks like.
In this time, we are exactly like the blind man at Bethsaida after Jesus touches him the first time: we see vague visions of a better world that we could not see before, but we do not yet know or understand the full picture. Most importantly, especially for new and growing believers, we do not love Jesus—not yet. It is a messy, confused place to be on the Christian journey, and a stage that may sometimes feel harder than what it is worth. We might sometimes think, “I’m fighting the fight, I’m praying, I’m going to church, I’m reading the Bible, but what am I getting from it? Why don’t I love Jesus as much or see Him as clearly as other people seem to? What am I doing wrong?” These are questions that have weighed on my heart more times than I can count, and have made me wonder whether God is even there at all. They are questions that do not go away so easily.
What keeps me going through the messiness, though, are the glints of light I have started to see around me. I see them in the goodness of people, in the simple kindness, joy, and forgiveness that friends and strangers alike show me every day. I see them also in the breathtaking beauty of the world around me: the leaves changing color with the seasons, the rain on the outside of my window, and the pink and orange sunrise over the city every morning. Like Paul in Romans 1:20, I have begun to see Jesus’ work in the world in these tiniest of things. It is in the smallest things that I get an inkling of how much more beautiful the world could be if I continue to fight the Christian fight.
If, like me, you feel like you have not yet attained full sight in Jesus, you are not doing anything wrong. If you have ever stood in a room full of praising Christians and felt like you just did not feel what everyone else was feeling, don’t feel like you are a failure. If you have ever prayed unceasingly and not heard a voice in response, don’t feel like Jesus is not there. Right now, you are in the most important and most necessary part of the Christian journey. You have begun to think about Jesus and to seek Him as a guide—that is an essential step. And no matter how the Christian community around you may make you feel, you are not “behind” or “failing” in your journey toward Him. You are on the right track, and you are not alone.
The realization I came to through Mark 8:22–26— that it is alright to still be working on myself, to still be questioning everything, and to still be on my way to loving Jesus unconditionally—is the most important realization I have ever come to. It taught me that in the Christian journey, there is not an immediate arrival. Like Paul says in Philippians 2:12, we must always continue to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling,” persisting in a hard fight toward a full relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus may slowly open our eyes to His world, it is up to us to take up the mantle and strive toward that kind of mature Christian life. It is a long road to walk, but fortunately, it is one we walk in good company.
1 Paraphrase of Mark 8:22–26.
2 Except for the story of Mark 8:22–26 paraphrased above, all of the instances in the bible in which Jesus heals the blind are instantaneous. See Matthew 9:27–31, Matthew 20:30–34, and John 9:1–38.
3 For examples, see Acts 2:41 and 4:4.
4 “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, has been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, ESV.)
McKenna Gilliland (CC’17) is a native Texan, and as such possesses an inexplicable partiality for Tex-Mex and country music. She likes to consider her History major a suitable excuse to hoard old books, lurk about in libraries, and fantasize about time travel. She hopes that her contribution to CC&C can add something valuable to Columbia campus’ discourse, for the glory of God.doubt, healing, love