Men as Trees Walking

In his book An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks describes the case of a man named Virgil, who had been blind since childhood. At the age of 50, Virgil underwent surgery to restore his sight. What he experienced afterward inadvertently confirmed the Bible's account of one of Jesus' miracles. Following the surgery, Virgil suffered from what is called "post-blind syndrome"—the inability to make sense of the panorama of colors and shapes that crowds our field of vision. As Sacks writes, Virgil would "pick up details… an angle, an edge, a color, a movement—but he would not be able to synthesize them, to form a complex perception at a glance." For example, when looking at a cat, Virgil "would see a paw, the nose, the tail, an ear, but he couldn't see the cat as a whole." It took time and practice, but Virgil studied a tree and finally learned to put it together. As his wife put it, "He now knows that the trunk and leaves go together to form a complete unit." These words ought to ring a bell for Christians who know their New Testament. The story of Virgil bears an uncanny resemblance to the story of the blind man of Bethsaida. In the Gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus led the blind man "out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him," Jesus asked him: "Do you see anything?" The blind man replied, "I see men as trees, walking." As Keith Mano writes in the National Review, this phrase "is not a poetic image. It is a clinical description. Like Virgil, the Bethsaida man can now see, but he cannot yet make sense of what he is seeing. Tree and man run together, as did trunk and tree-top for Virgil." In short, Mano concludes, "this is irrefutable evidence that a miracle did occur at Bethsaida No [charlatan] in the crowd could have faked it all by pretending to be blind because only someone recently given his sight would see 'men as trees, walking'…. A faker, not knowing about post-blind syndrome, would have reported that Jesus had given him perfect vision." Instead, the Gospel reports that Jesus cured the man twice: once of blindness and then of post-blind syndrome. In the age of science, skeptics and even some Christians are all too eager to explain away the miracles of Christ. They claim that advances in science will eventually provide a naturalistic explanation for what appear to be supernatural events. But ironically, as Virgil's story shows, science is providing a wonderful apologetic for Christianity. The story of the blind man's miraculous healing by Jesus could not be fully understood until our own day, when modern medicine has revealed the true nature of blindness. And that's what we ought to tell friends who have trouble believing in the miracles of Christ... the full story of the two men who were healed of their blindness—both of whom "saw men as trees, walking."


Chuck Colson



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