We learn in school that humans have five senses. We see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. By scientific definition, a sense requires an organ to gather environmental clues and send them to the brain. Some animals demonstrate additional senses. Bats use echolocation to locate prey and navigate. Birds are thought, by many, to use magnetoception, sensing the earth’s magnetic fields to assist in migration.
Use It or Lose It
One of my most memorable family trips as a child was to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. As you might expect, I was awestruck by the sheer scale of the geology. There were miles of passageways, great halls, and beautiful rock formations. One of the most vivid images I remember was a tank of fish that were completely blind. Apparently, this is a world-wide phenomenon; cave fish are typically not only blind, but often have no eyes. Eyes serve the purpose of informing the brain of patterns of light. Obviously, if there is no light, there is no need of eyes. Other senses become more developed and the fish’s ability to see goes away.
Do cave fish realize they are blind? That’s highly unlikely. The fish have no context from which they can understand light. Their entire understanding of the world is based on what the remaining senses report to their brains. Restoring a cave fish’s ability to “see” would be miraculous indeed. The sense organ, in this case the eye, would need to be recreated or transplanted in its original form.
A True Sixth Sense
What if humans had an additional sense which was lost over time, like the eyes of the cave fish? I’m not speaking of the proverbial “sixth sense” of a paranormal variety. But what if we, like cave fish, lived separated from a stimulus for so long that we developed a type of “blindness” to a long-forgotten class of information? How would we know? Could that sense be restored?
I propose that humans originated with an ability to know the presence of God. King Solomon spoke of God as he wrote, “He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT). What if God originally gave us a sense of who He is and how to find Him? What if the evil of this world dulled our perception to the point that we are no longer capable of knowing God’s nearness? Would you consider that plausible?
Healing the Blindness
If it’s true that humans have lost the ability to sense God’s presence, we are in a uniquely helpless position. An injury to the body can be quickly assessed and triaged. However, an injury to a sense can only be detected by its absence. For example, if I suddenly can’t hear, it would be reasonable to check my ears, wouldn’t it? However, if my ability to sense has been missing since birth and I haven’t been otherwise made aware, I can only trust the word of a benevolent observer. There are circumstances in which we just don’t know what we don’t know.
The Apostle Paul was raised as “Saul” in the strictest traditions of Old Testament law. He was so devoted to the teachings of a group called the Pharisees that he zealously persecuted those who had become Christians. In Acts 9, Saul was stricken with blindness when he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. It interests me that when a man named, Ananias prayed for him, “something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes.” (Acts 9:18 NLT). In a miraculous way, Paul’s entire perception of the world around him changed in an instant. His spiritual vision was restored.
“And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is indeed the Son of God!’ ” (Acts 9:20 NLT).
The Concerned Observer
Many years later, Paul stood amongst the idols in Athens and recognized the kind of blindness with which he had personal experience. He understood the Athenians didn’t know what they didn’t know. As a concerned observer, he spoke:
“As I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.“ (Acts 17:22-25 NLT).
Paul clearly sees what the Athenians are missing. He reasons gently as if revealing the concept of light to one blind from birth. He speaks of God’s kindly intentions, “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27 NLT).
We are all born with God-blindness. I was sitting in a chemistry class in college when I came to the conclusion that I was desperately missing something fundamental. Moments before, I’d been completely blind to the presence of God. Suddenly, I had a new perspective. Once you know, you can see what you were missing all along. Take it from a concerned observer…
So, how about you? Would you consider that what you think you know of God might be incomplete? If you’re a believer, was accepting Christ like regaining a lost sense of God?