Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Good is Half a Life-Saver?


I remember a television program (not quite a documentary) that I saw several years ago about how the brain works. For an experiment, some scientists took a college student and totally blacked out her vision—so much so that absolutely no light got in. They even put photo-sensitive paper in the blindfold just to make sure. After spending several days in total darkness, the scientists tested to see how much better she might be able to use her other senses—particularly the sense of touch. By projecting braille patterns on her fingers and asking her to discern what they were, they tested to see whether her brain would have rewired itself to compensate for the loss of vision. They were amazed. Those parts of her brain that were only days earlier used for sight had been reassigned to augment her other senses. When scientists used a strong magnetic field to “deaden” the part of her brain that was once used for sight, her ability to discern with her fingers the braille pattern diminished significantly.

And then they took the blindfold off.

I’ve always wondered what that felt like—to have been blind for days and then have one’s sight restored. If the human brain had rewired itself, how did it handle re-exposure to visual stimuli? How bright were those lights? How long did it take to adjust? Was her vision blurry for a few days until her brain caught up?

In today’s gospel lesson (Mark 8:22-33), we read about a man who was blind and the strange, two-step healing Jesus offered him. Taking him aside, apart from the crowds, Jesus spit on his eyes (gross) and touched him and asked, “Do you see anything?” The man replied, “I see men; but they look like trees, walking.” So Jesus tried again, and this time his sight was restored. Why the miracle in two parts? Why didn’t Jesus get it right the first time? Was he tired that day? Was this man’s cataracts particularly thick? Did the optician need to try a different setting—“which one is better, one or two or are they about the same?”

But that’s a silly way to approach this gospel lesson. Stop for a second and imagine what it must have been like for the man to see anything at all. Blurry or not, a blind man had just had his vision restored. What were those first rays of light like? How excited must the man have been? The brightness of day shines in on what was once total darkness. Who cares whether things are clear? A miracle has happened.

Well, Jesus cared. Blurry restored sight wasn’t good enough for him even if it would have been good enough for anyone else. The life Jesus came to give us isn’t just a miraculous gift. It’s a perfect gift. And the sight he came to give us—the ability to see and appreciate how much God loves us—is perfect vision.
 
What does partial redemption look like, anyway? Sometimes I forget that God’s intentions for me aren’t just average or even above-average. The quality of God’s redemption is incomparable. Partial salvation isn’t his game—no matter how miraculous that might be. For some, it would be enough to receive deliverance from the perils of this life. For most, we would be content if God would even rescue us from some of our troubles. But salvation isn’t a partial thing. The story of the twice-healed blind man reminds me that I can’t hold anything back from God’s salvation. If my life is to be remade, it must be remade completely. The transforming power of God’s love doesn’t allow for some parts of me to be saved while other parts remain behind. It’s all or nothing. Perfect and complete is the only way God works.

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