Optic Discs, Jonathan Edwards, and German Candy
My favorite class in high school was probably anatomy and physiology with Mrs. Brown. To get an idea of the structures of the human body, we dissected cow eyeballs, sheep brains, and pig heart and lungs. (Lungs are like cutting into jello with sticks in it, and the tissue foams. You're welcome.)
But the eyeball is what I'm meditating on today because of a strange little thing called the blind spot.
At the back of your eye is the optic disc where your optic nerve attaches to the retina. The nerve receives impulses from the rods and cones and delivers them to your brain where they are interpreted as sight. But the optic disc where the nerve attaches has no rods or cones. It's blank.
You'd think this would be an issue. Check out the diagram. The blind spot is in an obvious place. You ought to be walking around wondering why there's a black spot in your vision, but the human brain is an amazing thing: it fills in the space with copies of the surrounding image, a bit like the stamp tool in photoshop. You only notice the blind spot when something that doesn't match the rest of what you're looking at disappears into it. Try this:
It isn't until you focus on something else that you realize you're not seeing something right in front of you.
I think it's the same with our lives. We all have blind spots where something is flat wrong, but they don't show up until we take a look at something else and the blind spot is unavoidable.
I recently became aware of one my own blind spots. I'd like to think I treat people purely according to their behavior and character, not their skin tone. But I don't. And the reason I know this about myself is I read a Facebook post that temporarily put my focus elsewhere, off of my own limited experience. I believe that every human being is made in the image of God, but I realized that some of my behavior or language might make a person of color question my sincerity. It was like a bucket of cold water to the face. It wasn't intentional or even "that bad," but pleading ignorance doesn't change the fact that I could have hurt brothers and sisters in Christ or turned unbelievers sour on the gospel because of a blind spot. I am determined to change.
It got me thinking about a discussion my husband and I had while he was a pastor.
I've spent most of my adult life debating about orthodoxy aka "right doctrine." I can argue abstract theology all day, and I've even taught a class in apologetics. However, everyday behavior is a far stickier discussion. The word we're looking is orthopraxy or "right actions or practices," and it's important because it's the part everyone else sees, meaning it's the part that can make you a liar. It's what everyone talks about when you're a pastor. The sermon could be theologically perfect, and someone will get mad about whether you smiled.
But pastors have real ugly blind spots, too.
A particularly stark example is found in the amazing song "Precious Puritans" by Propaganda. He, a black man, describes his pained reaction when the Puritans are quoted and praised from pulpits. Pastors seem to forget that even Jonathan Edwards, the mind behind Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, owned slaves. As Propaganda says, "How come the things the Holy Spirit showed them/ In the Valley of Vision/ Didn't compel them to knock on they neighbor's door/ And say 'you can't own people!'"
Well, why didn't it?
And why doesn't the belief that all human beings are made in the image of God prevent Christians from calling LGBT persons that word that starts with "F," viewing pornography, either on the computer or on HBO, or killing babies in the womb?
And more personally, why does my belief that my children are precious miracles from God not translate into patience, kindness, and gentleness with consistent correction and discipline? I look at myself losing my temper, complaining about messes, and muttering stupid things under my breath, and hang my head at what my kids must think of the Gospel if Mom can't get through the day without needing a timeout herself. I can debate terms like penal substitution, unconditional election, and amillennialism, but all my kids want from me is solid boundaries, unconditional love, and that German candy from Daddy I keep on the top shelf. When I get five seconds of focus away from myself, all the blind spots in my character snap into view. How do I miss things that are so basic?
In the wise words of Thabiti Anyabwile, "Well, [right living] doesn’t follow mechanically, ipso facto, ex opere operato from some set of solid beliefs. There’s a whole lot of effort, application, resistance to the world, self-examination, and mortification that’s gotta accompany the doctrine in order for the duty to follow."
There's the rub. Self-examination. Mortification. "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." (Phillippians 2:12b) Like I said, orthopraxy is the part that makes you a liar.
The Christian walk is an exercise in right action growing out of right belief, and I think I can conclusively declare, Church, that we're a bunch of hot messes. As Propaganda says at the end of his song, "There's not one generation of believers that has figured out the marriage between proper doctrine and action." Only One managed to do it perfectly, and the only way to reveal our blind spots is to put our focus on Him instead of ourselves. Then we can recognize what is right in front of us.
Now I'm going to listen to Propaganda's "Precious Puritans" and eat some of that German candy with my kids while I thank God for blind spots revealed and sin corrected.
And for sugar.