While reading through the book of Acts with my family, we encountered the following verse, as Paul rebuked a false prophet who was attempting to block the good news that was being taught:
Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” Instantly mist and darkness came over the man’s eyes, and he began groping around begging for someone to take his hand and lead him.
Acts of the Apostles 13:11 NLT
Pause for a moment and imagine what might have been going through Paul’s mind at this time. Certainly, he was speaking the truth, as God fulfilled what Paul prophesied. (Remember, Paul didn’t have any “powers” of his own making, only the willingness to have God work through him. The same God can work through us, too!) Paul may have also been righteously angry at someone trying to keep another soul from believing in Jesus.
In addition to that, though, I wonder if Paul (who was also called Saul) remembered something from his recent past: Not so many years previous, he had been fighting against those who believed in Jesus, and was struck blind for three days, himself.
Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus.
Acts of the Apostles 9:8 NLT
In fact, there are multiple examples in the Bible where sight was taken away from those who are opposing God and the truth. (In contrast, Jesus restored sight to blind people, reinforcing the truth that since Jesus is the light of the world as recorded in John 8:12 and John 9:5.)
God does things for a good reason. (On the other hand, we human beings sometimes do things for bad reasons, and occasionally seem to do things for no reason at all.) Like the rest of the divine miracles recorded in the Bible and throughout history, there was a purpose for both of these men losing their sight (at least temporarily).
We may not know what happened to the sorcerer who was struck blind in Acts 13, but Acts 13:12 records that the governor was convinced of the truth of Paul’s and Barnabas’s message. Whether or not the blindness was also meant to change the heart of the one who could no longer see (and we hope that it was), it ended up opening the eyes of someone else.
Paul’s reaction to his own blindness was perhaps even greater, though: As we find by reading through the entire book of Acts, Paul set his life on a new trajectory after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of repentance (turning back), Paul went from persecuting those who followed Jesus, to devoting his life to sharing the good news about Jesus.
Other than getting people’s attention and showing His power, though, why would God choose this particular sign for these circumstances? I won’t pretend to know all of God’s reasons, but let me propose that when we are blind, we have a unique opportunity to think and talk with God.
Removing visual distractions helps us focus on other things. Children are taught to close their eyes when they pray. Even though this isn’t a requirement, it can help even adults shut out distractions and pay more attention to the words (and the Recipient) of the prayer. Do you hear God’s voice better when things are quiet, or when life is clanging its usual cacophony around you?
I can imagine both of these temporarily-afflicted men taking some real stock of their lives while unable to see. The last message that they had each heard before becoming blind (whether Jesus’ words to Saul, or Paul’s and Barnabas’s message about Jesus) could resonate in their minds. We know that Saul, at least, prayed during this time (see Acts 9:11).
As one whose sight has been poor for decades, and who knows of those who suffer from even greater vision impairments than me, I am not wishing physical blindness on anyone. I also hope that none of my readers are fighting against God and His family, but regardless of our relationship with Him, if God needs to get our attention, shouldn’t we give Him a chance to speak to us before He has to take such drastic action?
I believe that this is one reason why fasting is a good idea for followers of Jesus. (Jesus’ implication that His followers would do so – see Matthew 6:16-18 – would be another good reason.) I don’t fast enough, but when we take a break from something, we have more time (and motivation) to focus on God. Fasting provides a chance to talk with and hear from God, before He has to do something more dramatic to get our attention.
In the same way, maybe a computer crash or a “not so water-resistant” smartphone can be another form of temporary “blindness” that God allows us to have today. Disconnection from technology may induce panic in some people, but maybe that break from noise and distractions is God’s reminder that we need to turn more completely to Him. If that is the case, wouldn’t a voluntary break from some of these sights and sounds (even healthy, positive uses of technology) give us the chance to receive some of the same benefits as Saul?
Something to think about.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.