My earliest recollection of seeing a man knowledgeable in one specialty making foolish pronouncements in another area was South African heart-transplant pioneer, Dr. Christiaan Barnard. It was March, 1969, and his successful transplant of a healthy heart into middle-aged South African grocer, Louis Washkansky, 15 months earlier had transformed Barnard into an international celebrity.
At a charity event in Johannesburg one evening, I watched the handsome superstar beguile a bevy of socialites hovering around him. I edged closer hoping to hear more about his historic medical procedure. Instead, what I heard was Dr. Barnard explaining why the Americans’ race to land a man on the moon was doomed. Then, in response to a question from a pretty young thing, he launched into a lesson on how to maintain a long and happy marriage. His audience hung on his every word and as a young guy with very limited life experience, I can’t claim that I felt any particular skepticism.
Only a few months later, two events taught me caution about pontificating outside your area of expertise. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon and Christiaan Barnard and Aletta, his wife of 20 years, divorced. I decided that although his medical expertise was epic, his knowledge of space travel and marriage left much to be desired. This idea was reinforced when Dr. Barnard’s second and third marriages each lasted 12 years.
It is easy for even remarkable human beings possessing enormous, but specialized knowledge, to be blind in other areas.
This truism returned to me the other day while reading that one of the founders of Paypal and the force behind the remarkable Tesla automobile, Elon Musk, had made a completely ridiculous announcement. During a speech to the nation’s governors, he insisted that the biggest threat facing civilization is artificial intelligence. Really? Furthermore, he assured the roomful of politicians that the only way to cope was by vastly increased government regulation. The way government regulation has improved medicine, education, and Amtrak?
Spiritual blindness is more prevalent and far more dangerous than ophthalmic blindness.
God expects us to make use of existing medical knowledge to heal our physical bodies, so when Scripture discusses maladies, they are usually spiritually based. For instance, let’s glance at the three instances of blindness in the Bible.
The prophet Eli had sons who were behaving abominably:
Now, Eli had become very old, and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and that they would lie with the women who congregated at the entrance
of the tent of meeting.
(I Samuel 2:22)
Not surprisingly, it was emotionally untenable for him to accept that his sons and heirs were such failures. Consequently, he is soon described as ‘blind’.
And it was on that day, that Eli was lying in his place, and his eyes had begun to grow dim; he could not see.
(I Samuel 3:2)
Another example is Isaac. His older son, Esau, is a bitter disappointment. He denigrates the family’s spiritual birthright and marries women who do the same.
And Jacob said, Sell me this day your birthright. And Esau said….
what use is this birthright to me?
And Esau was forty years old when he married Judith.the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Bosmath the daughter of Elon the Hittite;
and they made life bitter for Isaac and for Rebekah.
Not surprisingly, it is emotionally painful for him to acknowledge the truth about his son so he too is described as blind.
And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old,
his eyes became dim so he could not see…
The only other instance of “natural” Biblical blindness needs a little help from ancient Jewish wisdom. You’ll remember that after Cain murdered Abel, God imposed punishments. One strange part of God’s retribution for his crime was to assure Cain:
…the killer of Cain will arise in the 7th generation…
I am of course aware that the conventional translation, based on the King James version, reads “…Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold…” Not only is this not exactly what the Hebrew original says, but as we all know, there is no record of anyone being punished ‘sevenfold’ for killing Cain.
Now, let’s see who is the seventh generation from Cain? Turns out his name was Tuval-Cain and he was responsible for casting formidable weapons from iron. (Genesis 4: 17-22). In a strange verse, his father, Lemech, makes a confession to his two wives. He admits to having killed a man and a boy and adds a mysterious allusion to Cain dying. (Genesis 4:23)
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains what happened. Weapon-obsessed son Tuval-Cain, took his blind father, Lemech, out hunting. Thinking he’d spotted a wild animal in the bush, he placed a powerful crossbow he had built into his father’s hands and pointed him towards the target. Lemech fired and with his son guiding him they raced to see their victim. To Tuval-Cain’s shock, he saw that the ‘prey’ was his legendary ancestor Cain. When Lemech realized what happened, he lashed out in horror and dismay and accidentally killed his son.
Once again, we find blindness linked to a father resisting seeing and acknowledging the truth about his son’s failings. In this case, a fresh and developing world did not exactly need a weapons-maker. Like Eli and Isaac, Lemech was blind to Tuval-Cain’s shortcomings.
We can all be quite blind in certain areas particularly if there is any emotion involved. The emotion can be ego, either a result of our pride in our accomplishments or on account of our emotional involvement with the topic on which we pontificate.
If “blindness” can happen to Lemech, Isaac, and Eli the prophet, and if it can happen to super-achievers like Barnard and Musk, it can also afflict you and me. Arrogance at our own achievements can bring on blindness as can emotional involvement. It is hard to keep blindness at bay when people we love (or are infatuated with) are concerned.
It is not hard for an adored celebrity to start believing that he knows everything about everything. It is not hard for a super-successful entrepreneur with no failures on his resume to think that his mechanical inventions have the power to take over the world.
The Eternal Guide Book assures us that artificial intelligence will impact the world just as the internal combustion engine did when it replaced horses, and just as radio and the Internet did when they arrived. But a threat to civilization? Don’t be ridiculous. The best source for everything from marriage secrets to societal threats is not from an oft-married celebrity or an entrepreneur, but from the Manufacturer’s Instruction Manual. Studying Scripture doesn’t just bring knowledge. It brings something far more valuable—wisdom.