Sermon delivered by Joel Snider, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rome, Ga., on August 30, 2009.
A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is
not mad, they will attack him, saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”
—Anthony the Great (c. 251 – 536)
As a child, I loved H. G. Wells. As a science fiction kid, I loved to read War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and several other stories sometimes required in school and sometimes just because I liked them.
As an adult, I was surprised to come across a book of H. G. Wells’ short stories that included a book called, The Country of the Blind. Obviously, I borrowed that title today for the sermon title. It is an interesting story. It is the story of a mountain guide in South American who is leading an expedition. They are in the Andes. There is snow everywhere and he accidentally steps into a snow-covered hole that is one of those big riffs with no apparent bottom, and he tumbles for miles and miles and miles. It seems like it goes without end until he comes, at last, into this beautiful valley. The valley looks like many other places on earth. The people looked like all the other people on earth with one exception. For 14 generations, no one in the valley had sight. Everybody was blind. It was the Country of the Blind. Not only did they not have eyes, they had no frame of reference whatsoever about anything that referred to seeing.
I remember reading a story about Helen Keller. Sometimes she would throw people off when they would meet her. They would say, “Miss Keller, it is nice to meet you.”
She would say, “It is nice to see you.”
They were not sure if she was kidding or what she meant by that, but in this particular country, there was no reference such as that because they lost all capacity, even to understand that the possibility of sight existed.
They confused the guide’s name with the city in which he was from and they called him “Bogota.” So Bogota took it as his mission to fill in everybody on the truth. He was going to tell them the way things really were. He tried to tell them about the sky and how beautiful it was. They had come to believe that they lived in a cavern with a big stone ceiling. The more he described the world to them, the more they thought he was crazy. They thought he was absolutely insane.
Of course, the big crisis came, as it always does, when Bogota fell in love. He fell in love and wanted to marry one of the beautiful women of the valley. The father of the beautiful woman was exceptionally upset that she might marry this insane man who said he could see.
We pick up the story as the father is talking to a doctor about what to do.
“‘I have examined Bogota,’ the doctor said, ‘and the case is clear to me. I think, very probably, he might be cured.’
“‘Ah, that is what I had hoped for,’ the girl’s father said.
“‘His brain is afflicted,’ said the doctor, and all the elders murmured in assent.
“‘What afflicts it?’ the father asked.
“‘This,’ said the doctor, ‘those queer things called the eyes. They are diseased. His eyelashes and his eyelids move and, consequently, his brain is in a constant state of irritation and destruction.’
“‘Yes,’ the girl’s father said, ‘yes.’
“‘And I think that I may say with reasonable certainty,’ said the doctor, ‘in order to cure him completely a small surgical procedure is necessary. Namely, to remove his eyes. Then he will be perfectly sane,’ answered the doctor, ‘and a quite admirable citizen.’”
All Bogota had to do to get the girl, have peace in the valley, and I assume whatever was behind Door No. 1, was to go blind—give up his eyes and be blind.
Most of you probably are not scholars of H. G. Wells. H. G. Wells was actually hostile to Christianity. I find it amazing that someone hostile to the Christian faith could write a parable that is so profound about what it means to be a Christian and live in the world where people see things differently. One of the great images of the faith about what it means to come to faith is coming to sight.
In the 9th chapter of John, there is a man who was born blind and Jesus healed him. There was a tremendous argument between the religious leaders and the man born blind. It is so filled with irony because those people who say that they can see, cannot see who Jesus is, and the one who was blind now sees Jesus very well. Of course, it is where the hymn, Amazing Grace, gets its line. The man who was so confounded by the religious leaders in John 9 says, “I was blind, but now I see.” This is the way that we come to understand what it means to have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Once we were in the darkness, now we are in the light. Once we could not see and we did not understand clearly, but now that Christ has come into our lives and the spirit is dwelling in us and now that God is at work in us, we see things clearly. We see things differently than the rest of the world, or at least we should. We see things differently about what is real.
The world thinks that money and everything physical and concrete is real. If you really think money is real, where did all that wealth go when the stock market sank? Where is it? Did it burn up? Did it get lost someplace? What happened there? Stop and think about how real that is.
What we know as Christians is that the eternal and the spiritual really are what last and are absolutely true in life. We see things differently about what works with other people. The world tells us to make sure we look out for ourselves. Make sure that we get even if somebody gets us. Vengeance will satisfy the soul, and any number of things like that, but as Christians, we have seen a different angle. We know that forgiveness is what finally solves things. We know that trying to control other people doesn’t work but trying to serve them satisfies the soul in a very different way.
If we listen to the world at large—another necklace, another SUV, season tickets to something that is really important to us, being able to take a skiing trip out West or to Europe instead of like the poor people who have to go to West Virginia or North Carolina—these are things that we think will really satisfy the soul, but the truth is we live in a world that is blind and has convinced itself that things are true that are not true.
The world has convinced itself that peacemakers are chumps and that sin is really a matter of personal choice. You can actually worship God and money. A person who tried to live out the Gospel is really a fool. Just like Bogota, we think, These people are nuts.
I heard a story about a man who was in his 90’s. Like many in retirement, he was concerned about what money he had left, how long he would live, and if he would he use up all his money before he died. Finally, in his 90’s, when he came to a place where he realized that he had lived long enough and that he really had enough, he decided he was going to start giving money away. He began randomly to give away money to people in need that he had encountered in the course of life. You can imagine what his family did. They went before a judge in a competency hearing. “He’s nuts, Judge. He’s giving away stuff.”
The man told the judge, “All my life I have wanted to give freely without any fear. Now, I can see the way to the end of my natural life and know that I have enough. Why am I crazy if all I want to do is live out the dream of being generous at a level that God has called me to do that I have never felt the freedom to do before?”
His family was saying, “He’s nuts. Take out his eyes. Don’t let him see the way that God sees and he will be OK.”
The world would ask us to give up our sight and to buy into the things that the world says will get us by in order to accept us. If we really want to be accepted and get ahead, if we really want to be loved and admired, all we have to do is give up the sight that God has given us in Jesus Christ and pretend that everything is as the world says.
We are tempted to give in, like Bogota, just so we can get along. If we would just pretend we can’t see, we would be OK.
The Apostle Paul says, “I tell you this and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”
What he is saying is don’t continue to live like people who don’t believe and really can’t see. They live in the dark; they are blind; they are futile. They live in frustration. Their lives are directed because they cannot see. They have made up explanations for things that don’t work. They have made up explanations for things that are not true and you should not be that way. He goes on to talk about how they have lost the sensitivity of things. They have lost sight. I don’t think it is so much chiding as it is a painful wish. “Why continue to live like blind people live? Why continue to live like people who live in the dark when Christ has shed light on our lives and we really can see the truth—the truth about who we are, the truth about what God has done for us, the truth about how sin will destroy us, and the truth about how Jesus Christ makes all things new.”
I am sure you can think of a time in your own life where you were engaged in a conversation with somebody and the temptation, in order not to be considered the odd person out or not to be considered a little fanatical in your faith, was to give up holding on to some belief that you held dearly because of what God had shown you. Just give it up. A simple surgical procedure. Remove the eyes of faith and then we will all be pronounced quite sane by an insane world.
Have you looked at the meditation text from Alexander the Great? The things that the world tries to get us to buy into are really quite mad. Of course, they think we are the ones who are insane, but God has given us eyes of faith. God has given us a change in Jesus Christ. God has given us the ability to see and then to live according to the sight of faith which he has given us. It is too great a gift to squander because there is pressure to do otherwise.
I once was blind but now I see. I am sure I don’t see perfectly, but I do know that what God reveals to me in Christ is the truth, the way, and the life. May we pray for the sight to always see as God sees.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.