Anthropomorphosis, Part 4

Anthropomorphosis, Part 4

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.. John 9:1-3

Anthropomorphizing the nature and workings of God is a cause of much confusion about God and life. Worse than that, however, it is the cause of many people turning away from God because they refuse to follow or believe in a God whose nature and workings are as they have been taught. When we anthropomorphize the nature and workings of God, we attribute human values to God and assume God behaves like and is solely interested in us. Of course, we limit what we consider as us to ourselves and those who think and act like us. We also take a time-and-space-limited view of how a loving God would behave since our perceptions are limited to the time and space realities of our current 80-or-so-year, three-dimensional existence. When something “bad” happens, as it inevitably does, we either reject God as unloving, thoughtless, or uncaring, or we believe we have done something to make God angry and so are being punished. This is exactly the way we would feel about another human being who we believe acted in an unloving and uncaring way towards us, which is textbook anthropomorphosis. When God appears to behave differently than we believe God should behave, we either seek alternative explanations or we cease to associate with or believe in God.

In the story from John in the epigraph, Jesus encounters a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples, anthropomorphizing the cause of the man’s blindness based on Jewish teachings and traditions, believe the blindness was caused by either the sins (the “bad” things) of the man (never mind that he’d been blind since birth), or the sins (the “bad” things) of his parents. Jesus makes clear that sin is not the issue. The man is blind so the works of God can be revealed through his unfortunate circumstance. This explanation is troublesome for a couple of reasons. For devout Jews, Jesus is contradicting traditional Jewish beliefs. For non-believers, Jesus paints a picture of a God willing to punish one person to make a point for others.

In the gospel story, Jesus heals the man’s blindness, which in our anthropomorphized and literal reading of the story we understand to mean he restored the man’s physical sight. And perhaps he did. But what if the man’s blindness was not physical? What if he was blind to the good news of God’s loving presence within him or the nearness of the kingdom of heaven? What if Jesus’ healing was a spiritual healing that opened the eyes Jesus refers to when he says, “You have eyes but do not see?”[1] Would that sort of healing be any less miraculous? A few verses later, Jesus says, “I came into this world…so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind?”[2] Surely Jesus is referring to something more than physical sight. Surely Jesus is trying to expand our understanding beyond our typical, anthropomorphized view of God and reality.

When we anthropomorphize sight, or any of our other senses or human capabilities, we limit our understanding of them to something physical. We miss that seeing is much more than perceiving the colors and contrasts before our eyes. And hearing is more than perceiving the limited range of vibratory inputs our physical ears can receive. And feeling goes well beyond our physical sense of touch. Each of our physical senses has a corresponding and hidden spiritual mode of sensual reception that can open aspects of our world to which we are otherwise blind.

Our modern-day sciences reveal how much of life our physical senses miss. And science reveals the enormity of what even it cannot begin to perceive or understand. Back to the gospel story, we can either believe God created the man blind at birth so Jesus could reveal God’s power by restoring the man’s sight. Or we can imagine that blindness happens for reasons we do not understand and Jesus restored the man’s sight to show what is possible when our eyes are opened to possibilities beyond our physical sight. I believe the latter explanation is no less miraculous and far more consistent with what we can and do experience in our earthly days. There is an infinite world of possibilities for us to experience lying just out of the reach of our physical senses. Anthropomorphizing the nature of God only reinforces our blindness to God’s kingdom.

This is the 53rd in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.


[1] See, for example, Mark 8:18

[2] John 9:39

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