“You can see leaves on trees?”
Those were the first words out of my mouth as I exited the optometrist’s office. At nine years of age I learned that trees seen from a distance did not match the iconic pictures of trees often drawn by children—a brown trunk topped by a fuzzy green circle—and I was stunned.
Similar revelations followed as I began to see the world with 20/20 vision for the first time. And while my newfound clarity proved exciting, it also carried a certain unease, not only from realizing I hadn’t seen the world accurately for nine years, but also (and perhaps more so), because I hadn’t known it. I felt as though I was emerging from a long deception.
The Miracle of Sight: Removing Spiritual Blindness
The transformation of my visual world from one of blurred images to one of sharp, focused shapes is easy to explain scientifically. But for me, the experience of seeing clearly for the first time was nothing short of miraculous. However, the true miracle of sight is in God’s ability to remove our spiritual blindness—to reveal who he is, who we are, and how great a gulf exists between the two. That process, unlike the correction of physical sight, is one not easily explained by science, nor is it always as easily accepted.
The difficulty lies in the fact that the lens through which we view the world is closely connected to our identity—who we perceive ourselves to be and who others are in relation to this perception. When a worldview is questioned, the holder of that worldview is suddenly faced with a very personal dilemma: Do I really know who I am? And that places the individual in the uncomfortable position of questioning the people who helped form his or her identity—usually the most loved and respected people in his or her life. Accepting a differing set of beliefs feels, for many, like a betrayal.
Interacting with Individuals Who Come from a Different Starting Point
I learned this during my interactions with Ya Hue.* My friendship with Ya Hue, a student from China, developed quickly. We met at church and soon began meeting once a week after she expressed interest in learning more about the Bible. Almost immediately I discovered her quick wit, her interest in other cultures, and her reflective nature. We spent hours conversing on a wide range of topics and our relationship deepened to the point that we openly shared our joys and sorrows with one another.
During one of my initial meetings with Ya Hue, the topic of original sin surfaced. She disagreed with my assertion that people are born evil, instead attributing the bad behavior of individuals to corrupt influences within society. She then agreed to the concept of absolute truth, but remained unable to provide any standard for that truth. When she suggested society as the standard, I asked her whether an entire society could be wrong. She grew quiet and then said, “I’ve never thought about some of these things before.”
It was a statement Ya Hue would repeat many times during our discussions. Sometimes her admission surprised me, revealing the fact that I often take many biblical truths for granted and assume that everyone around me sees the world the same way. But I have to remember that some people are still seeing trees as big green circles. I also have to be honest and admit that my own vision continues to be corrected as God reveals blind spots in my own life. I know from experience that the process of gaining spiritual sight can be painful. And for someone whose vision is radically altered, it may feel as if the person is emerging from a long deception.
Ya Hue seemed to move back and forth. She wanted what she saw when she looked at our group of believers and she recognized the wisdom and truth within the Bible, yet she still held back. At one point she even asked “You realize that this is very difficult for me?” And I did, because I understood that she felt like her whole belief system would essentially collapse if she accepted the truths of the Bible. Gaining a new worldview meant seeing the world in a radically different way from those she loved—and that made her feel disloyal, even disrespectful.
I reminded Ya Hue of Jesus’ statement, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). She had discovered the verse while reading on her own and found it to be a source of great comfort. She sincerely wanted to find truth. I knew that the truth would indeed set her free from all her fears when she received God’s gift of salvation and his peace entered her heart.
Realizing Obstacles, yet Staying Faithful to Witness
However, for individuals to accept God’s offer of redemption they must receive enough clarity of vision to see their need for reconciliation with him. And there may be many obstacles preventing this optical acuity, especially (if not entirely) due to a person’s worldview. For instance, when Ya Hue and I first began meeting together, she told me she didn’t believe in God. Quite obviously I couldn’t talk about the separation between her and a being she didn’t believe in. She also didn’t believe in original sin, so the idea that men and women are corrupt could not serve as a starting point for discussion.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God can use us like optometrists to learn about a person’s spiritual sight. Can the person only see near? Or far? Is there something which blocks only a portion of the vision? Or is it almost entirely obscured? This kind of understanding is obtained by asking questions. Just as an optometrist cannot possibly know what his patient is seeing, we also cannot know what the people around us are seeing. So we must ask questions. And then we must listen.
I did this with Ya Hue and over time developed a better understanding of how she viewed the world. It helped me know which questions to ask, such as, “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?” and “Do the gods you give offerings to care about you?” I also gained a greater sense of compassion, feeling the pain behind her statement, “I can’t just throw away my culture,” and gently exploring why she felt that way.
My role as an “optometrist” was only possible with Ya Hue because she took the initiative to visit our church. But what about people who never go to the doctor? What about those who, for whatever reason, will never visit a church service?
Individuals within our church realized that some of their friends would never come to one of our Sunday services. Many reasons kept them from coming—some cultural, some religious—so a decision was made to host dinner after the service at a nearby home. The reasoning was that a non-religious setting would create a non-threatening environment for people to visit. It would also allow individuals to engage with our community without causing them to disobey their parents or bring shame upon their families by visiting a “Christian” place of worship.
God Wooing One Step at a Time
Each week, the Sunday dinner brings in a crowd of people, some of whom I have never seen at our organized service. They know the meal is put on by International Bible Church and that a certain topic will be introduced, followed by a period of discussion. We make no attempts to hide either the purpose of the evening, or its affiliation to our church. And still they come—Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, atheists, etc.—to participate.
Many of the people who come are students. They are graduate students, visiting scholars, and post-doctoral students from all over the world. As such, the worldviews held by some of the students blind them to the truths of the Bible. But each week they are hearing truth as we discuss issues such as corruption, integrity, or equality. These are topics all people can relate to, regardless of worldview. And each week they hear what God has to say about important issues that affect their everyday lives.
As they listen, those of us who are followers of Christ pray that they will hear the wisdom of God’s words. And we pray that the Spirit will work to remove the blindness from their eyes and give them divine sight. We realize it may be a slow and even painful process as they emerge from a long deception. But we also know how grateful they will be once they see God for who he is, see themselves for who they are, and see God’s gracious offer of salvation in all of its beauty and power.
This process is taking place in Ya Hue. She has yet to accept God’s offer, but one of her most stirring statements continues to ring in my mind today. She said it at the end of one of our times together, during which we talked about how the Holy Spirit indwells Christians, enabling them to love with a supernatural love that only God can give. I wasn’t sure how much she understood. She looked into my eyes and took away all speculation when she said, “The thing is that right now there is only me living in me.” I sat in stunned silence. Then she looked at me again and said, “Maybe someday I will be able to love like that.”
Sight can come to the physically blind and that indeed is a miracle. But sight coming to the spiritually blind moves into the realm of mystery. And that is the profound and eternally significant mystery we seek.
*Name changed to protect identity.