What does it mean when something blinds us? Webster defines blind (in the verb form) as (1) cause of (someone) being unable to see, permanently or temporarily; (2) to deprive (someone) of understanding, judgment, or perception. Blindness brings with it an inability to see. Scripture is clear that sin can blind us. Sin may blind us in two ways. First, the Lord may blind hearts to sin (Lam. 4:14, 2 Cor. 4:4; John 3:19-20; John 12:39-40). The life of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar are examples of this type of blindness. A second type of blindness results when someone continues to follow in sin. The Israelites (complaining, grumbling in the wilderness; worshiping other gods in the Promised land) and David (his sin with Bathsheba) are examples of this type of blindness. The second type involves a choice. For example, the Israelites chose to complain. Their focus became primarily about their hunger and thirst, not about their Creator. As a result, they grumbled and complained, which eventually led to idolatry. Choice by choice, David chose to sin. His lustful look led to sending for and sleeping with another man’s wife, leading him to lie and cover up what he had done, which led to murder. David became so blinded by his sin that Nathan had to confront him by using a story about a poor man’s lamb being slaughtered by a rich king [the rich king being David] to help him see (2 Sam. 12). Scripture is clear that whether the Lord blinds hearts (as in the case of unbelievers) or people choose to follow their sinful ways (sometimes in the case of believers), sin blinds us.
What about suffering? Can suffering blind us? While there is a choice-element involved in sin, we cannot choose whether or not suffering happens to us. Brad Hambrick notes, “We cannot abstain from suffering. No amount of wise living, right choosing, or fervent praying will make us Teflon to suffering.” While we may have a choice in sinning, we do not have a choice in suffering. We cannot choose whether or not a family member dies, a natural disaster occurs, whether or not we get cancer, or of another person’s mistreatment. Though we cannot choose whether or not suffering happens to us, we do have choices in the midst of it. Who do we turn to when we face suffering? Do we choose to talk about the struggles, or do we choose to hide them? Where do we place our focus—on the suffering or on the Lord? Do we choose to turn to the Word of God, or do we turn to something else for comfort?
We have an enemy who does not play fair. Temptation often comes in the trials of suffering. Look at Job. Job did nothing to deserve his suffering, though his friends thought otherwise. Job grieved, he cried out to God, he hurt, but he did not lose sight of the Lord in the midst of it. He did not curse God or turn away from Him. Instead, Job chose to turn to the Lord. Notice his perspective: “ Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face” (Job 13:15). When his wife tempted him to curse God, Job resisted, saying, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). Job consistently kept his eyes focused on the Lord in the midst of his suffering.
The Israelites, however, had a different approach. Soon after the Lord delivered them from the Egyptians, they became hungry and thirsty. Instead of crying out to the Lord in the midst of their hunger and thirst, they chose to grumble and remember Egypt—Egypt-the very place where they had been slaves. They cried, “If only we had died by the LORD’S hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out in this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex. 16:3). Instead of choosing to focus on the Lord—their Provider and Rescuer who had just allowed them to walk through the dry ground of the Red Sea—they chose to dwell on the land of slavery they had just left and the food given to them. (Even in the midst of their grumbling, the Lord was gracious to provide manna for them.) Later journeys through the wilderness would reveal their hearts. The Lord was not pleased with most of them (1 Cor. 10:5). Their story is for us to see as an example, “To keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6).
If we are not careful, in the midst of our suffering, our suffering becomes all we see. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we should not look at our suffering or avoid it. We need to look at it. Our choice at that point becomes what we do with it. We can acknowledge the pain, hurt, anger, heartache, or anguish that we feel. We can ask for the Lord’s help. We can choose to cling to the promises of God. Edward Welch notes that in our sin, we have to “Stand up and fight.” That statement applies to suffering as well. Sometimes we want to lay down in it. It can overwhelm us. If we do that for an extended amount of time, though, our “suffering story” becomes the story in which we live. In other words, it can blind us. Suffering becomes all that we see. Though we cannot fight our suffering (as to whether or not it happens to us), we can fight the choices we make in it. Sometimes the biggest fight we face in our suffering is our perspective. We may be tempted to look inward (either to ourselves or ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”) or outward (for comfort or distractions), but we have to fight to look upwards. We find true hope by looking up. When suffering blinds us, look to the Light:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess [choice]. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace [choice] with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16, italics and brackets mine).
Looking up to the Lord can be challenging when we are hurting. Christ not only conquered sin, He conquered suffering. We fight sin by looking to Christ. We also fight suffering that way. Suffering hurts, but it does not have to blind us.