One time an old man was sitting on a wooden bench in Hyde Park in London. The weather was horrible and everywhere the ground was covered in ice and even the leaves of trees were frozen. Suddenly this old man took off his coat, then his jacket, then his woolly jumper and began singing as if he was at home sitting on a sofa in his living room. The few passersby looked on in amazement because they were wrapped up to the hilt and still they were freezing. Suddenly the man stopped singing, got up from his seat and stretched himself out on the frozen ground as if he was going to take a nap. It was the last thing he would do in this world. When the ambulance arrived a few minutes later the man was dead; another victim of hypothermia.
This boggles the mind because any rational person affected by hypothermia would seek warmth, put on more clothing and do things to keep the circulation going; but not this man. The cold had affected him so severely that he was doing the very opposite required for his survival and the result was profound and noticeable. He died right there a most horrible death.
What is it about us, fallen humanity that determines wilful blindness? Are we suffering from a disease so dreadful that like that old man our very minds are distorted when we are dealing with moral and spiritual issues? Is unbelief the greatest barrier we have erected to deny ourselves that which is our destiny and frustrate the very purpose of our existence?
All of this came to mind when I meditated on an interesting verse of scripture, "They said therefore unto him, what sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? What dost thou work?" (John 6:30)
The questions asked by these people are truly mindboggling and you just have to look at the context to understand why.
Jesus had just performed a superb miracle when he took five barley loaves and two fishes, bless them and increased them to feed over five thousand people and collected twelve baskets full of left-over afterwards. To have personally witnessed a miracle like that, to be a prime part of such an event and yet a few hours later asking this same miracle-working Jesus to show them a sign so that they can believe him is truly beyond belief.
What was the matter with those people? They followed Jesus up to the grassy mountain because they heard that he turned water into wine, they heard that he had healed the nobleman's son, they heard he healed the cripple by the pool in Jerusalem and who knows what other stuff they might have heard. And a few hours ago they saw for themselves a miraculous work, something quite impossible by an ordinary person. In addition Jesus walking on the water and going over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, when he did not leave in the boat with the disciples, should be abundantly convincing who he was.
Here laid bare for all humanity to see for all time is a supreme example of wilful blindness, a case of seeing light and calling it darkness, a prime illustration of distorted minds in a state of denial. Just like other Jews in another place who said, " we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him" (John 3:2) and yet later they called him a devil, "But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." They acknowledged that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews, "And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest." And yet later these same people demanded his execution, "But they cried out, away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, we have no king but Caesar." (John 19:15)
We see here what we see so clearly today and that is that some people take great offense at the truth preferring rather to remain in their self-imposed darkness. These Jews saw a great miracle and they actually said in effect, so what, Moses gave us food called manna for forty years in the desert so your little thing of increasing the loaves and fishes to feed five thousand is nothing much, so show us something more awesome. And of course if Jesus complied and showed them a far greater miracle, as he did on later occasions like raising the dead, then they would just keep on asking for more and more until the end of time.
The truth must dawn on us that those who are wilfully blind are not in that state because of the lack of eye-opening remedies but rather a determination on their part not to avail themselves of any corrective solution. Abraham knew this when the rich man Dives begged him to send Lazarus to tell his brethren to avoid hell and not to repeat his mistakes and Abraham promptly replied, " Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." (Luke 16: 27-31)
It is one thing to have doubts and be sceptical of claims that are farfetched and suspending your judgment until such time as adequate explanation or proof is tendered. It is quite another matter altogether to seek proof, find it and then proceed as if the proof never existed. Unbelief of this nature is vastly more than plain scepticism; it borders on contempt for a higher authority's right, in this case God, to inform your darkness.
Burton Coffman in his Bible Commentary has the following insights on unbelief:
1. Unbelief is a state in which man consciously accepts for himself the status and destiny of a mere animal. Contrary to the deepest instinct of the soul and the prompting of his own ego, the unbeliever rejects the status available to him as a child of God, claims descent from simian ancestors, and ascribes to himself a destiny identical with that of a rat or a worm.
2. Unbelief is contrary to man's nature. Man's very nature is to believe, an inveterate trait locked into the deepest instincts of human life. Evil men know that trait is in men and take full advantage of it, all of the schemes ever devised for defrauding men having as their dominant characteristic a reliance on man's willingness to believe almost anything. As P. T. Barnum indelicately stated it, "There's a sucker born every minute!" What an incredible marvel it is, therefore, that in the contemplation of the mountains of evidence attesting the authenticity of Christ and his message, the behavior of mankind should be atypical. What a wonder that people will not believe in God, but will believe in witchcraft! No wonder Jesus marveled at unbelief.
3. Unbelief is a denial of man's highest hopes. The unbeliever forsakes the hope of heaven, forfeits all cosmic value for himself, and flaunts his conviction that he shall descend to the rottenness of a grave and remain there forever. Such a spiritual renunciation is soul suicide; and even Christ marveled at such a thing.
4. Unbelief is a denial of the senses and a closing of the windows of the mind. It is a refusal to see, to hear, and to understand the mountainous evidence calling men to believe in the Lord Jesus. It is like a man staring at the Grand Canyon or the Matterhorn and saying, "I do not believe it!" The Holy Bible, the history of Israel, the great commemorative festivals of Judaism and Christianity, the sweep of the religion of Christ through history and the collateral enlightenment and civilization which invariably attended it, and the lives of faith in all ages these the unbeliever will not see. The thundering voice of history, the testimony of the calendar, and the witness of all that is highest and best in art, literature, music, architecture, government, and psychology - all are rejected by the unbeliever in the manner of Southey's owl hooting at the noon sun, and saying, "Where is it? Where is it?"
5. Unbelief is reverse logic. In Mark 6:6, where it is stated that Jesus marvelled because of their unbelief, the reference is to the citizens of Nazareth who rejected Jesus because he lived in their village! This was their logic (?): We are unworthy and ignoble; Christ came from one of our families; therefore he is unworthy and ignoble! That is exactly like saying: I hear this great and wonderful music; but since a person like I am is hearing it, it cannot possibly be true! This is the logic (?) that supports unbelief.
It is very difficult if not impossible for a rational, normal, sensible person to come face to face with reality, wilfully deny it and not be negatively altered by the experience. Humans are endowed with moral character and pristine spirituality wanting always to embrace truth and gravitate to the light. When that light then clearly shines on your path and you mightily resent it, circumnavigate around it and continue in dreadful darkness then something awful occurs. Paul put these sentiments into words that are truly sobering when he saw the wilful blindness of the Jews, "And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2: 11-12)
How many of us are believing lies, accepting falsehoods as our mantra and all the while believing that we are in the centre of God's will? Ask the Jehovah Witnesses or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints or the members of any religious Christian sect what is their rationale for choosing that faith and marvel at their answers. Believers and non-believers alike when are we going to wake up and see things as they really are or are we so far gone we don't even know it?
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013
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