If you’re fortunate enough to have a new baby in your life you already know how he or she constantly brings moments of joyful discovery. Here is one that recently startled me. From about their first birthday, babies respond to eye cues more than head direction cues. This is really quite amazing. What this means is that when I direct my face towards the left but move my eyes to look right, the baby follows my eyes not my head!
Animals don’t do this. They are very alert to the direction that the head of another animal is facing but seem oblivious to eye movement. Most animals including baboons and chimpanzees will glance in the direction they see a human looking. But if a person faces one direction and moves his eyes to another, the primate will follow the face not the eyes. (A dog may be an exception here, but I’ll discuss that in the future.) In fact, we seldom see any animal looking in any direction it is not facing.
Of course, it is not only babies who seem to be cued significantly by people’s eyes. We adults do that all the time. Regardless of the direction a person’s head is facing, we watch the eyes. A politician may be facing you and speaking to you, but watch his eyes glance over your shoulder to spot someone more important. A flirtatious glance is revealed by the eyes. Sometimes, people roll their eyes to reveal disdain.
But why are our eyes so much more revealing than those of animals? It turns out that no creature on the planet has as much white of the eye as do we humans. Thus, our eyes are uniquely equipped to reveal their movement. Because God gave this special gift, the white of the eye known as the sclera, to His children, we are able to easily and quickly read another person. A lot of exposed white suggests shock or fear. Reduced white is a happy smile. Skilled artists make use of how much the white of the eyes reveals.
Yes, human eyes really are quite different from animal eyes. Perhaps this is why of over five hundred references to eyes in the Hebrew Scriptures, all apply to humans or to God. When eyes are first mentioned, the word appears three times in three consecutive verses in Genesis chapter 3.
For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened,
and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,
she took of its fruit, and ate, and gave also to her husband with her;
and he ate.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
Eyes have nothing to do with the biological process of sight in any of those three verses. Eyes in verse 5 refers to the intellect. Eyes in verse 6 refers to the emotions and eyes in verse 7 refers to the sensual. In our relationships with others, we relate either intellectually (business partners, study partners, etc.) emotionally (friends, lovers, etc.) or sensually and physically. Often a relationship involves more than one of these.
Similarly, in all the other many Scriptural instances in which eyes are mentioned, the deeper meaning always goes beyond the simple process of biological vision. Before we communicate with someone else by speech, we are already communicating with our eyes. We were created to Connect, to Communicate, to Collaborate, and to Create. Indeed, the four Cs! No wonder that tiny humans yet incapable of speech communicate via their—and our—eyes.