DIVINE BLINDNESS AND DEAFNESS
A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner
Preached in Rochester, Michigan May 17, 1992
If you were standing before someone you respected and cared for a great deal, someone who had the power to make your life either “all right” or unbearable, and that person knew that you had done something terrible, faithless, shameful, how would you feel? How would you want the person to respond?
Would you want to be absolved of all wrongdoing without any discussion? Would you want him to simply pretend that nothing had happened? That might bring an initial relief, but it would also create a discomfort, a lack of resolution, a lack of truthfulness. We would feel that that person had not acknowledged the reality of our life, and in not doing that he or she would be showing an unwillingness to know us and to know the truth. The deeper part of us longs to be known and to be valued based on our real character and merits. Otherwise it is not we who are being loved.
Of course, we would hope to be forgiven. We would hope to receive a new chance. But we would not want the trust to be restored miraculously. Again, this would bring initial relief but not healing relief. Rather, we would want the trust to be restored based on our real efforts to move beyond our transgression. In this way we would feel a deep sense of acceptance and forgiveness. It would be a real restoral of relationship.
It’s one thing to have someone overlook our faults or not make an issue of them. It’s another thing for that person to deny our faults when they have become the issue.
All this is prelude to considering an amazing quality of our Lord, a quality that is ascribed to Him in our text from Isaiah – namely, His Divine blindness and deafness: “Who is blind but My servant? Or deaf as My messenger whom I send?” (Isaiah 42:19)
In what sense is our Lord blind and deaf? The Writings of the New Church explain it this way: “[The Lord] is called ‘blind’ and ‘deaf because [He] is as if He did not see and perceive people’s sins, for He leads people gently, bending and not breaking, in this way leading away from evils and leading to what is good; therefore He does not chastise and punish, like one who sees and perceives” (AE 409:2, emphasis added).
The Lord does see and perceive our sins. He knows us thoroughly. (As the Psalmist sang: “You know my down- sitting and my uprising and are acquainted with all my ways.”) In addition, He knows that ultimately we are beings who want to know ourselves and be known accurately. And yet at any given time there are things that we cannot accept about the Lord, about ourselves, about others. There are things that we can see but do not yet really deal with. If the Lord is going to lead us further, then He must let certain things remain hidden; other things He must allow to be as they are for the sake of what is to come. And this is why, from our point of view, He can appear to be blind and deaf to evil.
This is contrary to one idea we have of the Lord. We think of the Lord as perfect, as pure, as utterly and uncompromisingly truthful. According to this idea, all that is imperfect, impure, or false stands far away from Him. If He were to draw near to evil, what would happen? Wouldn’t He rebuke it loudly? Wouldn’t He cast it far from Him? Isn’t it abominable, unclean, contrary to His holy and perfect will? Wouldn’t it be crushed, burnt up, destroyed in an instant? The Psalmist speaks this way; he sings of the Lord’s descending and all the mountains catching fire and melting like wax.
But would the Lord be this way when He came? He certainly had enormous power and used it to cut through falsity and evil, and to lay them bare. He certainly had a zeal for righting wrongs, for protecting the good from evil. Our chapter from Isaiah speaks of this quality of the Lord as well: “Yehowah shall go forth like a mighty man; He shall stir up His zeal like a man of war. He shall cry out, yea, shout aloud; He shall prevail against His enemies. I have held My peace a long time; I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor; I will pant and gasp at once. I will lay waste the mountains and hills, and dry up all their vegetation; I will make the rivers coastlands, and I will dry up the pools” (Isaiah 42:13-15).
What zeal! And yet, if people expected the Lord to be only this way when He came, they were in for a surprise.
Consider Jesus’ stooping to the ground, drawing in the dust with His finger while crowds of people stood around. What would the Lord do? Hadn’t this wretched woman sinned – caught in the very act? Shouldn’t she be stoned? Wouldn’t Divine justice demand this? What a curious picture of the Lord this presents. It appeared, as John recorded, “as though He did not hear.”
Again, think of how the scribes and Pharisees struggled with the Lord’s acceptance of people who were not observant of the Law: He actually ate and drank with them! On one occasion a Pharisee mused to himself. “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Was Jesus simply ignorant? Or was He condoning her sin? “Who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger whom I send? You see many things but do not observe; Your ears are open but you do not hear.”
The Lord was often “as if He did not see and perceive people’s sins” because His aim was to gently withdraw them from their false ideas and their evil habits. This could not be done if every evil and falsity were confronted and rooted out at once. We can see that the Lord’s work required great “patience and tolerance.” And this is, in fact, one of the ways our text from Isaiah is explained. We are told that it describes “the Lord’s patience and tolerance” (Prophets and Psalms).
How important were patience and tolerance in the Lord when He came! Our state was so wretched and low and His hopes for us were so high! There was so much disorder and blindness. Truth and falsity were so mixed in people’s minds. There could be no simple, quick, and bold remedy that would not jeopardize the good that was there or destroy our freedom. He couldn’t use the mere force of truth to straighten things out – not unless that truth was applied wisely and patiently with the prudence and long-sightedness of Divine love.
And so the prophets don’t just record a picture of the coming Lord as a “man of war,” entering the scene with force, but also of a person with inscrutable wisdom and restraint: “Behold, My Servant on whom I lean, My chosen One in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit on Him; He will bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He will not cry out nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench. He will bring forth judgment into truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged till He has established judgment in the earth” (Isaiah 42:1-4).
“He was despised and rejected by men …. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth …” (Isaiah 53:3,7).
“Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently …” (Isaiah 52:13). And this is how He deals with each one of us today. He is present with us with Divine perfection and power, yet He is Divinely patient and tolerant – to the point where He seems not to see or heed our evils.
The Lord’s “blindness” and “deafness,” when we understand them rightly, teach us how we ought to be with one another.
It’s not hard to see how they apply with children. Their faults are so apparent. Their ignorance is so great. There is so much that they must learn and experience before they can appreciate what we appreciate. And they can’t change at once. Their affections must be educated and bent gradually. Selfish affections that are harmful, such as hatred and contempt, must be chastened. But selfish affections that are not so contrary to love, such as pride in self-accomplishment and excelling more than others, must be tolerated and only gradually confronted (cf. AC 3993). For a while those qualities can serve some use.
The case is similar with children’s growing ideas. The limitations and fallacies in them need to be tolerated and not crushed. They see the Lord as capable of anger and of punishing. They think that heaven can be earned by good behavior, with little appreciation for the proper spurt in which good must be done. They think that they can do good from themselves. These ideas contain fallacies and the seeds of terrible falsities. Yet they are stepping stones to truer ideas. They must be tolerated and even fostered for the sake of the innocence that is within them and for the sake of the potential that they represent. A wise adult keeps the end in view and restrains their tendency to correct every error. They overlook when they can.
And are adults all that different from children in these respects? Don’t we need to be tolerant and forgiving of a lot of the selfishness that we see in one another – especially selfishness that’s not blatantly contrary to neighborly love? Don’t our religious concepts contain a lot of fallacies, particularly as we live them (as opposed to our “book faith’)? In fact, don’t wise people even overlook errors and perversions in others when they can? We are told that angels do (see AC 1082-1088).
If we have the end firmly in view, there are often deeper ways that we can help one another than by trying to rebuke and crush bad behavior and erroneous ideas. First, we can “mind our own house” and be a better member of society ourselves; this is a tremendous source of strength to others! (For our private lives touch others from within, spiritually, and from without, in ways that are hard to appreciate.) We can also support the good things we see in others and work to strengthen them. In doing these things we are also in a better position to help influence their ideas with our own sight of truth.
It is important to realize (returning to our sermon’s opening thoughts) that wise “blindness” and “deafness” is not a matter of ignoring all evils. We see this in our story from John. The Lord did not ignore the woman’s adultery. He did not remain silent. He looked up and saw her and spoke to her. And He didn’t just say, “Neither do I condemn you.” He said, “Go and sin no more.”
How would she have felt if He had not looked at her? If she had been forced by silence to turn and slip off like her accusers? She would not have felt known by this Man who was her Maker and Lord. She would not have felt that His forgiveness was credible or meaningful.
So with us. If we would be wise, we can’t just ignore evils in ourselves or in others. When they become clear issues, we must openly acknowledge them. We must recognize (in the case of our own transgression) or communicate (in the case of another’s) love and mercy: “Neither do I condemn you.” We must encourage ourselves or others to move on from where we are: “Go.” And rather than offering blanket acceptance, we should realize and communicate that hope and peace lie in stopping the disfunctional behavior: “Sin no more.’
What the Lord “didn’t hear” were all the accusations being thrown at the woman. He didn’t seem to hear at first their suggestion that she be stoned.
The Lord appears to be blind and deaf to evil because He doesn’t act from truth alone. From truth He sees and hears. But from love He feels and touches. Truth alone condemns – it stones to death. The Lord does not subject us to endless persecution because of our evils and mistakes; He doesn’t listen to the voices of hell which we hear at times, railing upon us, inspiring guilt and anxiety. Truth alone would keep us all in a state of such hell to eternity.
But truth from love is different: it wisely distinguishes one evil from another; it sees to the heart of things; it looks to the end in view. What appeared to the Pharisees as an outrageous flaw was in fact a sign of the Lord’s perfection. “Who is blind but My Servant, or deaf as My Messenger whom I send? Who is blind as He who is perfect and blind as Yehowah’s Servant?”
“He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:3,4).
We all stand before Him in evil and condemnation. And sometimes we stand before each other so. In struggling with our own condition and with others’, may we remember just how merciful and wise our heavenly Father is! He draws near to us, with all the force of Divine holiness, perfection, glory, yet “because of the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, for His compassions fail not. They are new every morning …” (Lamentations 3:22,23). Amen.
Lessons: Isaiah 42; John 8:2-1 1; AC 6472:2, 4031:4
6472. The Lord does not compel a human being to receive what flows in from Himself but leads in freedom, and so far as a person allows, through freedom leads to good. Thus the Lord leads a person according to his delights, and also according to fallacies and the principles received from them. But gradually He leads him out from these. And this appears to the person as though it were [done] from himself Thus the Lord does not break these things, for this would be to do violence to freedom, which however must needs exist in order that the person may be reformed.
4031. If a person does not receive good and truth in freedom, it cannot be appropriated to him or become his. For that to which anyone is compelled is not his but belongs to him who compels, because although it is done by him, he does not do it of himself. It sometimes appears as if a person were compelled to good, as in temptations and spiritual combats; but he then has a stronger freedom than at other times (as may be seen above: n. 1937, 1947, 2881). It also appears as though a person were compelled to good when he compels himself to it; but it is one thing to compel one’s self, and another to be compelled. When anyone compels himself, he does so from a freedom within; but to be compelled is not from freedom.