by Christopher C. Thompson | 4 September 2020 |
I saw a really funny comic the other day. In the frame there are two anthropomorphic birds (for clarity, let’s call them chicken hawks). They’re relaxing in matching armchairs. One is reading the paper and the other is holding a hot cup of tea with a matching saucer. Then the dialogue ensues:
Bird 1: Do you think the owl is a predator?
Bird 2: Of course not. He’s never bothered me.
Bird 1: Exactly.
(Contented silence. Bird 1 sips from the teacup. Bird 2 continues reading the paper.)
Bird 1: No idea what Mr. Mouse was going on about.
They both have their legs crossed and they both have a slightly smug and totally self-absorbed expression on their faces. I laughed fairly heartily at this little strip when I saw it. It’s a hilarious little joke. Yet, it’s a scathing rebuke to the kind of privilege that makes one unable and unwilling to see the pain and plight of others. It speaks to the core of what I have come to realize; that we have a crisis on our hands much worse than COVID-19. With sincere apologies to those who are fighting this deadly pandemic on the front lines, this is not intended to minimize their taxing and life-threatening work. Nevertheless, there is a blindness that has overtaken the people of God, and it threatens to claim the spiritual eyes and lives of many more.
“Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17 NASB).
The Laodicean Church was the only church among the seven churches of revelation that received no commendation. Even Thyatira, the sinful, adulterous church of Jezebel, and Balaam got commendations for deeds of loving service. Not Laodicea. Laodicea gets no kudos. The church is in trouble with Jesus because of her indifference. She is being warned that her greatest problem is that they are a self-deluded bunch. They are convinced that they need nothing. Yet, Jesus chides them saying, you have no idea that “you are wretched, miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
It’s the blindness that always gets me. Spiritual blindness is a condition that deeply intrigues me. One of the reasons is because it’s mentioned quite a few times in the New Testament. Jesus warned of spiritual blindness on several occasions. But here’s what I noticed. In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul warns of people whose eyes have been blinded because they don’t believe. In John 12:40, John quotes Isaiah 6:10 and explains that Jesus attributes the deception and blindness of those who don’t believe to Satan saying, “He has blinded their eyes and he hardened their hearts, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.”
There are several of those examples. However, here in Revelation, Jesus sends a message to a family of Christian believers and scolds them for blindness. But aren’t believers the ones who can see? Here’s the million-dollar question: How does one become blind again after they recently regained their sight? Can you actually lose your sight again after it is restored? Could it be that they lost their perspective of the world because they were so consumed with what they saw in the mirror? The mythological story of Narcissus comes to mind. Could it be that we are wasting away and losing our perspective because we are so engrossed with our own selves?
Turning a Blind Eye
Nevertheless, no matter the cause, our blindness is showing. I’ve attended two protests in the last week. I put on my mask and joined the crowd as we screamed and shouted for #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd. My heart was warmed by the number of white people (and the other races) who came to stand in solidarity with the mourners who are tired of the cycle of pain and collective trauma from yet another hashtag. I was pleasantly surprised, and simultaneously encouraged by such a strong show of support.
I think people are waking up. I think it had to do with the blood-curdling cry, “I can’t breathe!” Those three little words are a haunting reminder of the barbaric murder of another black man who wheezed those very same words as he breathed his last breath. George Floyd’s plea for relief reminded our nation that there is still a reckoning for Eric Garner’s murder. Whether he broke the law or not, he did not deserve to die on the blistering hot concrete, in broad daylight, with the entire world watching.
But then that’s the problem. There are too many people who act as if they didn’t see it. Let me be clear. I didn’t watch the video. I stopped watching them after Philando Castile. I didn’t watch it because I can’t take the trauma anymore. I can’t stand to see another black man murdered in the street with impunity. I didn’t watch it, but I felt it. It burned and strangled my core until I was totally exhausted with grief. But there are many who are acting as if they can’t see it.
I see them on social media and on the news. They seem to be consumed with the riots and the looting, (the myth of) “black on black crime,” and George Floyd’s past mistakes. They see everything except his brutal murder. Why can’t they see him detained, on the ground, helpless, and pleading for his life? Why can’t they see Ahmaud Arbery running for his life from racist vigilantes? Why can’t they see Breonna Taylor’s body riddled with bullets while she was resting in her bed after a long day’s work of saving lives during a global pandemic?
Why can’t they see the irony of the cops using excessive force on peaceful protesters that came out to protest cops’ use of excessive force? Why can’t they see innocent people being beaten and pepper-sprayed by cops? Why can’t they see our pain? Why can’t they say the names of those who have been brutally killed? Why is it that we don’t matter to them? I guess they’re just blind. Turns out, blindness is much worse and much more widespread than coronavirus.
Here’s the good news. Jesus has a cure for blindness. Jesus has challenged everyone in Laodicea to come and buy eye salve so that their sight might be restored. This is liberating to me. I have been working hard for some time now to try to get people to see. I’m not an ophthalmologist, and I don’t work miracles. I’m done trying to help people to see me, my people and our pain. Maybe here’s a good place to say that it takes a healthy dose of white privilege to expect your one black friend to explain white privilege.
Jesus said to come to him. Ask him. Inquire of him. Have you prayed for God to help you see? All it takes is a basic Google search. People write articles on this stuff all the time. There are so many books written about systematic racism and injustice that if a person really wanted to find out, it’s nothing that Amazon Prime can’t solve. And especially recently, because Amazon Prime has even made some premium films on the subject free to watch.
But then I realized that Jesus never said they were deaf. He only said they were blind. He actually appeals to their hearing ability in that he says he’s standing at the door knocking. Also, he says if we hear his voice then we should open the door. That means that not only is he knocking, but he’s also standing outside screaming, “I know you’re in there!!!” Then at the very end of the letter he appeals again saying, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:22 NASB).
So maybe you can’t see, but you can hear. You can hear Eric Garner screaming again through the voice of George Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe!” George Floyd screamed just like Eric Garner screamed. Then, just before he died, the last person he cried out to for help was his dead mother. Hopefully if you have kids you can hear in his voice the agony of your own child crying helplessly in pain. I could never stand the sound of my son suffering. Hopefully it won’t take the suffering of someone you love to hear the cries and see the pain of others. For what it’s worth, I hope your eyes get better.
Christopher C. Thompson works in Huntsville, AL for the Breath of Life broadcast and ministry. He and his wife, Tracy, have one son, Christopher II.