“I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.”
John Newton, “Amazing Grace”
The Fall crippled our vision in two ways: it blinded us to the glory of God born in us and in the world, and it enlightened us to painful self-awareness, self-consciousness, and shame. Consider how vision plays into the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. The crafty, persuasive snake offers an alternative choice to Adam and Eve’s innocence and relative blindness. All they had to do was eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and their eyes would be opened!
Suddenly, they’d be able to see the divisions and conflict in everything, just as God does! They’d immediately become divine—power, glory, and all—without having to endure the lengthy refining process God designed through the Cultural Mandate! Who wouldn’t want to take this shortcut in lieu of the longer, harder path? Eve couldn’t resist once she saw what a good deal this snake seemed to offer. Once Adam and Eve beheld the delightful possibilities afforded in the fruit, they couldn’t turn away. Truth is, neither can we.
But here’s what Satan failed to make clear: this fruit wouldn’t make them see as God sees; it would make them—and us—see as Satan sees. Once Adam and Eve sank their teeth into the fruit not yet meant for them, they went blind to God’s glory displayed in all things. They lost the ability to see the associated creative possibilities shimmering in the previously unspoiled Garden.
Instead, they saw their own nakedness. Their gaze was averted from the view so grand to the imbued distractions of their own imperfections and failings.1 Their response was, in desperation, to try to hide their shameful discovery, but, fig leaves hastily fashioned hide very little. Their guilt and shame grew further when God came calling. Again, they sought refuge among the foliage, and again, it proved of little use.
Adam and Eve’s sin had found them out. The result proved tragic — not only for them, but for us all. What was once intended to bless and fulfill now cursed and left hollow. However, this fallen vision isn’t permanent! The promise of redemption appears, though in shadows and types, in the promised son in Genesis 3:15; it breaks through in God’s sacrificial, gracious covering of Adam and Eve’s shame in Genesis 3:21.
As Andy Crouch recognizes in Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, “…Genesis 3, is not just the site of human rebellion against God, not just the site of God’s judgment against sin, it is also the site of God’s mercy.”2 This merciful light amid our self-inflicted darkness grows from faint star-light in the Old Testament to the bursting forth of dawn in Christ’s incarnation.
Satan makes Jesus the same offer that he makes Adam and Eve: in Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus with power and glory without suffering—the joy of a crown without the agony, shame, and suffering of the cross. He shows Jesus all that can be His without the refining process designed by God. Thankfully, Jesus sees clearly both the tempter’s sleight of hand and His Father’s faithful plan. By refusing the shortcut, Jesus heals our blindness and covers our naked shame and guilt.
Shusako Endo describes this beautifully in Silence: “But Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt — this is the realization that came home to me acutely at the time.”3 This redemptive gift transforms us into ambassadors of reconciliation tasked to reveal to others what lies underneath this deathly veil of dust and ash. As Makoto Fujimura writes, the redeemed “imagination guides us beyond the cruel reality of brokenness.”4
Yet, even still we see through a glass half darkly (or a mirror dimly) as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:12—we don’t see the whole of God’s glory just yet; we’re still a mix of blindness and enlightenment until Christ returns. This also means that even as ambassadors of reconciliation, we lose sight of where God’s redemptive work is unfolding in this fallen world. We need the Spirit to reorient and recalibrate our vision from time to time.
I was powerfully reminded of this one evening at the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia, as I was set to preach truths that I wasn’t sure I still believed. My heart was hemorrhaging after being told by some friends, “How can we pray for you in your need when you are the one who prays for us? We count on you so we can’t handle it when you struggle and can’t see the redemptive possibilities.” I was coming apart at the seams, but trying my best to keep it hidden for the sake of the men and women in chapel that night (or was it for the sake of my ego?). My efforts proved pitifully fig-shaped, thankfully.
That evening, there was a new resident named Steven sitting on the front row watching me with disarming interest; it was as if he could see through my disguise to see that I was bleeding out. Apparently, if anyone could spot a person trying to cover up his imperfections and failings, it was Steven. He’d long suffered under the weights of addiction, self-loathing, and self-mutilation; his arms were scarred testimonies of his attempts to assuage his soul-crushing pain by inflicting even more pain. Despite his own brokenness (or perhaps because of it?), he saw another in need and refused to look away.
He said, “Stop! Stop man! You need somebody to pray for you. Can I pray for you right now?” Tired of working so hard to hide what could no longer be hidden, I received his gift of grace from the Spirit. My vision cleared up enough to see that what I had to say was true. Steven embodied this powerful line from Endo’s Silence: “True love was to accept humanity when wasted like rags and tatters.”5 He accepted me in all my inglorious rags and tatters and refused to leave me so uncovered and exposed.
Reading Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory recently reminded me of my experience that night at the Rescue Mission. The main character is an unnamed priest who Greene describes as a “whiskey priest” — a derogatory term declaring him a failure. The whiskey priest sees himself as nothing more than “a sacrilege. Wherever he went, whatever he did, he defiled God.”6 The story follows him as he runs from a brutal lieutenant seeking to rid his Mexican state of the scourge of the church.
As the story unfolds, the priest finds himself imprisoned among the dregs of society which grants him this powerful insight: “Again he was touched by an extraordinary affection. He was just one criminal among a herd of criminals…He had a sense of companionship which he had never experienced in the old days when pious people came kissing his black cotton glove.”7 Living among the unseen and forgotten, he realized,“When you visualized a man or woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity — that was a quality God’s image carried with it. When you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”8 Confronted by the wreckage of human rebellion against God, the whiskey priest was able to see God’s unfolding mercy and grace in both himself and others despite his previous blindness.
We too stand amid the wreckage of human rebellion against God. We too suffer blindness to God’s glory and excessive self-awareness and obsession with our failings. And we too can have our vision and imaginations redeemed! We too can see that the groping image-bearers in rags and tatters and the deformed raw material of this fallen world still contain something worth saving and transforming for the glory of God!
Through our vocations and callings, we have the creative opportunities to join God in bringing light to the darkness. Through our communities and culture, we have the transformative opportunities to have our imaginations trained to see beyond the present cruel realities to what is possible in Christ through the power of the Spirit. May we all be able to sing with the conviction of experience above the din of the Fall: “I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.”