SUBLTE BUT NO LESS SEVERE.
One of the greatest curses we face in the American church today is spiritual blindness. It would be one thing if the blindness existed because we lacked God’s word. But we don’t lack God’s word. We have it in abundance. Yet the spiritual blindness that plagues the church, and the broader society is rampant. This is clearly God’s judgment.
Martin Luther writes:
“No greater mischief can happen to a Christian people, than to have God’s word taken away from them, or falsified, so that they no longer have it pure and clear. God grant that we and our descendants be not witnesses of such calamity.”
Calvin wrote similarly in his commentaries on Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 29:11 which reads:
11 The whole vision has become to you like the words of a [c]book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.”
12 Then the book is delivered to one who [d]is illiterate, saying, “Read this, please.”
And he says, “I am not literate.”
“In the same sense he now shews that, from the highest to the lowest, they will derive no benefit from the word of God. He does not say that doctrine will be taken away, but that, though it be in their possession, they will not have reason and understanding.
Subtle judgment like this is the worst of judgments. The people of Israel had the word of God, but having it and deriving benefits from it are not the same thing. They had been given the greatest light of all mankind. They were YHWH’s chosen people, and He was their God. He raised them up out of nothing and planted them on the solid rock. He guided them, provided for them, spoke to them, corrected them and rebuked them. Yet, in their prosperity, they turned away to other Gods.
The blessing of the word was no longer a blessing. Because of their obstinance, it became their curse. They closed their own eyes, and God brought even more blindness, as we will see below.
“In two ways the Lord punishes the wickedness of men; for sometimes he takes away entirely the use of the word, and sometimes when he leaves it, he takes away understanding, and blinds the minds of men, so that ‘seeing they do not see.'”
This is the most subtle judgment, in that those who have the word of God, are blind to its meaning, and are the most spiritually trapped, since they think they have no need of anything at all.
I remember a Baptist preacher saying that the hardest person to reach for Christ is the one who grew up in the church, thinking of themselves as a Christian and in favor with God, never realizing their own wickedness and their need for Christ. They can quote Scripture with the best of them, but the word of God does them no good. It might as well be a poem by Byron, Shakespeare or Rudyard Kipling. Interesting thoughts, but no life giving power.
Calvin elaborates on the two ways that God brings this subtle judgment on a people:
“First, therefore, he deprives them of the reading, either by taking away the books through the tyranny of wicked men, as frequently happens, or by a false conviction of men, which left them to think that the books were not delivered to be read universally by all.
This is not quite the problem we have in modern evangelicalism. While Calvin doesn’t say so, I would say that our problem is a proliferation of the Bible, to the point that we wrongly hold it in low esteem. There are so many Bibles, that we can toss them aside as if they lack value, simply because we don’t like the cover. (It hasn’t helped that the Christian publishing companies have added to this belittlement by coming up with the “fill in the blank” study Bibles.)
Calvin gives the second reality of this subtle judgment:
“Secondly, although he allows them to handle and read the books, yet, because men abuse them and are ungrateful, and do not look straight to the glory of God, they are blinded, and see no more than if not a single ray of the word had shown upon them.
I believe one of the biggest abuses of the Bible today occurs when those who come to God’s holy writ, asking: “what does it mean to me?” These people are coming to the word in judgment, not in humility. They seek to use the word to justify their sinfulness, and no matter how much we try to show them that their sinfulness is actually sinful, they cannot see it. They have been blinded. Instead of coming to the word, and letting it sit in judgment of their lives, they come to the word, and seek to judge it as it seems fit. This is blindness that leads to more blindness.
As Isaiah 29:9-10 show us, not only are they guilty of their own blindness, but God Himself has added to their blindness.
Pause and wonder!
Blind yourselves and be blind!
They are drunk, but not with wine;
They stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.
For the Lord has poured out on you
The spirit of deep sleep,
And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets;
And He has covered your heads, namely, the seers.
Notice the progression. “Blind yourselves and be blind!” That is what it is like for those who have the word of God, and turn from it. Or have the word of God, and deny what it says. They start out blind, by not coming to the word in humility, and have blindness added to them.
I love the picture Isaiah gives us: “They are drunk, but not with wine, they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink.”
It would have been better for them to actually be drunk with wine or intoxicating drink. At least in that case, they would have become sober over time, and returned to their right mind. But alas, their drunkenness is not temporary. Why?
For the LORD has poured out on you, the spirit of deep sleep… God has become active in keeping them drunk, keeping them blind. He is active in bringing about this judgment.
Please note: this judgment was on the leadership, the nation and the individuals. It was effecting everyone. We are seeing the same thing in our day.
This post and the photo are copyright © Timothy J. Hammons 2021.