Cultural Blindness

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Have a look at this image…have a good look…what do you see? Do you see a number? If someone said to me “Joshua, I will give you 50K if you can tell me what number is in this image”, I would have to randomly guess a number in the hope that I was correct. No matter how hard I have looked at this image, no matter how much I will myself to see a number, I cannot see it. Even people tell me what number is there, I still cannot see it. I have a form of colour blindness where my colour vision is shifted towards the red end of the spectrum resulting in a reduction in sensitivity to the green area of the spectrum. In other words, I cannot see green very well. The problem is not the wiring of my brain (though some may think otherwise), but it is do with my eyes themselves, I will not bore you with details, except to say that my eyes are missing certain receptors so that my eyes cannot pick up certain waves in the colour spectrum. So distinguishing yellow from light green is difficult, pink from grey and blue from purple is difficult, but in every day life everything seems normal (except for buying bananas that are ripe). The thing about being colour blind is that in every day life I am not aware of it.

But there is another type of blindness that all of us are susceptible to acquiring, not colour blindness but cultural blindness. It is the inability to detect the currents, morés, and values of our culture, the inability to discern them in light of God’s Word and the inability to see if they are influencing us.

Recently in our parish we have just finished a series in Judges and this was really brought home to me with the example of a Judge named Jephthah. Jephthah is one of those OT figures whom is not that well known I suspect. He is not one of those OT figures that is likely to be used in a ‘Kid’s Spot’ in church (like Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon). In case the name does not ring a bell for you, his tragic account can be found in Judges 10:6 – 12:7.

At first Jephthah seems like ‘a good guy’. When we are introduced to him, God’s nation of Israel is in a real mess. They had displayed a cascade of failures, morally and spiritually. Verse 6 of Judges 6 shows us how this is the case:

[6] The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. (ESV)

They not only have done evil in the eyes of the Lord and committed spiritual adultery, they have done it multiple times at the same time. They are have really done evil, not only is now Baal, but also the Ashtoreths, (which is the summary way of saying the male and female Canaanite gods)the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, the gods of Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. So they had taken on every ‘god’ of every nation that surrounds them. They served every false god that surrounded them rather than Yahweh. Their failures are presented here, one on top of the other. They have gone from bad to worse. (The fact they would spiritually go to bed witih the god of Aram is perverse since Aram was a nation that God used to punish them back in chapter 3. God raised up Othniel to save Israel from Aram, now generations later they are now worshipping the fake god of Aram).

Israel had sunk so low. Look again at the last sentence of v.7

AND THEY FORSOOK THE LORD AND DID NOT SERVE HIM

The verb ‘forsook’ is a word we don’t really use. It is past tense of the verb forsake, and we don’t really use that word much. For example if a person gives us Maccas, it would be a rare thing for them to announce “I forsook Maccas”, (though this would certainly be to their advantage!). It means to renounce, or abandon, to desert, to leave, to quit. When it came to Israel being God’s people, living in God’s place, living under God’s rule, Israel said to God as a nation “I quit”! “I’m done” It is like the husband or wife saying to their faithful spouse who has loved them “I am leaving”.

Israel’s rebellion is massive and God responds in kind and hands them over to two nations, the Philistines and the Ammonites. But our of sheer outrageous grace God sends a deliverer,  a man named Jephthah.

By the time he comes on the scene, Israel is so desperate, that they have no choice but to turn to this warrior who had a very dodgy parentage, who was hanging out with losers due to being driven out by his own family. To cut a long story short (though it is worth reading), Jephthah gives the oppressing King a theology lesson and a history lesson then goes out to fight him.

Again, this Jephthah seems like a good guy. He lays out the truth. In v.29 we read that the Spirit of Yahweh (or the Lord) is upon him and off to fight the Ammorites he goes! But in his zeal, he sows the seed that will blossom into the tree of tragedy. And this is what i suspect he is remembered for. Look with me at 11:30-31:

[30] And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, [31] then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”

It begs the question:

Why would Jephthah, an Israelite make such a vow? And even more tragic, after God grants him the victory, which (very important to remember) God was going to anyway).

The reason…

CULTURAL BLINDNESS.

Jephthah was blind to the cruelty of the pagan cultures around him. He was blind to the evil practice of human sacrifice to gods. He was also blind to the prevailing cultural view of how one approaches the real and living God. Jephthah has imbibed the view that for God to act in a way that was beneficial or favourable, one needed to offer a sacrifice to Him. Thus the greater the sacrifice, the greater the favour. The culture around viewed human sacrifice as the ultimate sacrifice.

The consequences of his cultural blindness are tragic and horrifying!

It was a foolish vow that if fulfilled would have tragic results.

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

We want to step back in time and go there and say to him. Don’t do it. Confess your foolishness to God, break your stupid vow, save your daughter’s life. Your vow is useless, it was won’t sway God, he was always going to grant you victory and save Israel.(See 10:16 and 11:29; God had already decided to save Israel, for he could not bear to see Israel suffer. And in v.29, God’s Spirit was upon him). But he goes through with the sacrifice.

His blindspot was massive, and it had massive and fatal consequences.

And herein liesi the challenge for us, we all have blind spots. The tragic example of this not so well known Judge serves to highlight to us that we as God’s people should never underestimate the effect that our culture has on us. And that by and large our culture can and does have a bigger effect on us than the Bible. Our blinds spots can be really difficult to remove…why? Because they are blind spots, we cannot see them. But the Scriptures; God’s Word – and the Holy Spirit (together) they serve as a lens and a scalpel. They enable us identifies those (what I call) cultural and personal cataracts, and remove them.. Over the years God has shown me many blind spots that needed to be removed. They can come in all shapes and sizes, where we take on and imbibe certain cultural traits, morés, and ethics… that our culture deems normal…yet God’s Word deems sinful. It could be external behaviours or internal attitudes or a real unhealthy cocktail of both.

cataractsNow of course we would all say “Amen”! We would all say “Obviously”. But we are people of our time and place and we don’t always see our culture objectively, we don’t always see our culture through the lens of Scripture, we should, but we don’t always do it. Just as cataracts block sight, cultural cataracts block our spiritual sight, blinding us to the truth of God’s Word, and to how we are living our lives in light of it.

Jephthah had God’s Word, he had God’s Law, God had shown him that He was the true and living God and was not like the pagan ‘gods’ around Israel. Yet Jephthah was blind. He could not see how the prevailing pagan worldview around him, he could not discern his culture in light of how God had revealed himself. He was just like the other pagan kings around him.He was blind to the truth of God’s Word.

There is a term that was coined by the Protestant Reformers and the term is

SEMPER REFORMANDA

And it means ‘Always Reforming’. The Reformers used this term because they rightly believed that the church should always be reforming its doctrine and practices in light of Scripture. Here is the challenge. This term applies also at the individual level. Are you, am I, are we Semper Reformanda? Are we constantly being reformed by the Spirit of God, through the Word of God? If we are not, then our spiritual vision will diminish and over time we will have no vision at all.  God’s Word is the lens and the scalpel, God’s Word identifies and cuts out tt those cultural cataracts, God the Holy Spirit is the surgeon, how is your vision? Do you have 20/20 vision? Or do you require radical surgery?

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