Spiritual blindness is why it is hard to reach so many folks:
In the ESV we find the terms “blind,” “blindness” and other forms of the word used 85 times. The words have both a literal, physical meaning and a metaphorical, spiritual meaning. Going through all these usages of the word makes for an interesting and revealing study.
The first time in the Bible that we find the word is in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. There physical blindness is spoken of as a judgment of God on the wicked. In Genesis 19:11 we read about how two angels of the Lord “struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door.”
Similar to this are the words found in the list of curses for disobedience recorded in Deuteronomy 28. In verses 28-29 we read: “The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of mind, and you shall grope at noonday, as the blind grope in darkness, and you shall not prosper in your ways. And you shall be only oppressed and robbed continually, and there shall be no one to help you.”
A number of the prophets make use of the terms, and usually in relation to the spiritual blindness of Israel. Isaiah for example speaks of those “who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!” (Is. 43:8). But he also speaks of a day when “the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see” (Is. 29:18).
But it is in the gospel accounts where the words are most often found, especially since Jesus heals so many who are blind, and also because he speaks of the spiritual blindness of the people and the religious leaders. Sometimes the two are closely brought together as in John 9. There the healing of a man born blind results in a major discussion of spiritual blindness. Verses 35-41 say this:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
Again we see the metaphor of blindness as divine judgment. In John 12 Jesus refers to Isaiah in this regard. Verses 37-40 say this:
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
Spiritual blindness is the condition of fallen mankind. Consider what else is said about this in the New Testament. Outside of the gospels there are only six references to blindness. The first one (in Acts 13:11) is another case of divine judgment via physical blindness. The five remaining passages are all about spiritual blindness:
Romans 2:19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2 Peter 1:9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.
1 John 2:11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Revelation 3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
All these texts about spiritual blindness are important to keep in mind. When we deal with non-Christians and seek to lead them to Christ, answer their questions, deal with their objections, and make the case for biblical truth and morality, we will get a lot of opposition and rejection.
We must understand that most of this is spiritual in nature. As the 2 Cor. 4:4 passage makes clear, Satan has blinded these people. So any dealings we have with the unsaved must take into account this spiritual reality. It is not just that we need better Christian apologetics, or better evangelistic methods, or more winsome means of sharing the gospel.
Yes, all that and more has its place, but at the end of the day there is a spiritual wall that is in the way and we must engage in prayer and spiritual warfare if we want to be successful in our outreach. Plenty of commentators can be brought to bear here. Let me utilise just one. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his discussion of Romans 8:5-8 says this:
The Christian is not only interested in his own soul, he is also concerned about the whole state of the world. It is a libel on us to say that we are not interested in the state of the world. But we are not interested as the non-Christian man is interested. He is interested only politically, socially, and so on. We are interested as we see the world in the grip of the devil. We alone, as Christians, understand what is wrong with the world. We see ‘powers’ and ‘principalities”, ‘the rulers of the darkness of this world’, behind the visible and seen phenomena, and we see perplexed politicians trying to deal with the problems, and failing. We know they must fail because they do not see what is at the back of it all. We see it as the conflict between heaven and hell.
And in his commentary on Ephesians 6:10-13 he states:
The Apostle is exhorting these Ephesians to realize something of the nature of the battle in which we are all inevitably engaged as the result of being Christians. Indeed this battle exists whether we are Christians or not. The teaching of the Bible throughout is that this world in which we live is a battle-ground, is a place in which we literally have to fight for our souls, to fight for our eternal welfare.
The Apostle gives these Ephesians some very specific instruction with regard to the nature of that battle, and as to the only way in which it can be waged successfully. Clearly the exhortation is primarily for Christian people; his whole argument is based upon that consideration. At the same time, however, it has a message for everyone; for it is true to say that this is a conflict which affects all persons whether they realize it or not. Those who are not Christian do not understand their own world at this present time; they cannot understand why it is as it is, and why various things are happening. So while we are looking at the Apostle’s instruction with regard to the way to fight this great battle, we shall, incidentally, be seeing the exposure of the complete failure of all who are not Christian even to understand their problem, and still more their failure to deal with it in an adequate and successful manner. In other words, we are confronted here with the Apostle’s teaching as to the way in which we can fight successfully the forces that are arrayed against our souls and their highest and best interests.
We must never forget this. But it is not just the non-Christian who fails to see these spiritual realities. Too often believers can also act and think this way. They fail to see the real spiritual battles we are engaged in. But I have spoken about that elsewhere, as in this piece for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/03/15/seeing-the-unseen-world/
So by all means we must keep sharing the gospel. We must keep answering the questions of non-believers. We must keep seeking to engage in the culture wars. But we need to know that behind all these endeavours we are engaging with spiritual wickedness and darkness, and Satan has blinded the minds of those who do not believe.
So our prayer life must be just as busy and active here as any verbal or theological engagements we have with the lost. Indeed, without a sustained and thorough spiritual foundation backing up what we do, our work will largely be in vain.
Put on the whole armour of God.