I remember clearly both of my parents explaining the reasons behind my first name.
My mother fell in love with it when, as an adolescent, she met a sweet baby girl with that name. The infant was delicate and darling. Her name was uncommon in my mother’s circles. It might have been the first time she ever heard someone with that name. That day she determined that if she ever had a daughter, she would name her Cécile. My mother hoped for a precious, beautiful baby girl and, years in advance, she decided on her name. As the only daughter she had, I treasure that story.
My father didn’t have such an emotional encounter with my name. Deeply influenced by Old and New Testament stories of parents naming children, of God naming unborn children, of Jesus renaming disciples, what mostly mattered to him was my name’s meaning. Hence, to his eight- or nine-year-old child, he one day declared: “We’ve named you ‘Cécile’ because it means ‘blind.’” I was terrified.
His follow-up remarks on why such meaning was important were lost to me. Sure, I heard sentences like “you should be blind to the things of this world,” and “you should strive to see things the way God sees them.” But I was appalled that, of all names available to him—to them—I got the one meaning “blind.” Couldn’t they call me “Lucie,” which means “light”? Or “Sophie,” which means “wisdom”?
Even as a child, I was aware that oftentimes in the Old Testament prophetic names were given to people. Hosea’s three children were named beforehand by God. I especially remembered her daughter Lo-Ruhamah, which means “not loved” and his son Lo-Ammi, “not my people.” These names were symbols of God’s plans towards the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. So did my name mean I was going to become blind at some point in my life? Or did it mean I was doomed to be spiritually blind? As much as I felt loved by my mother’s explanation, I felt dread at my father’s.
Growing up my friends shared, proudly, the stories behind their names: a song, a celebrity, a relative their parents loved. But what was I to say? To my teenage mind, my mother’s story was shallow and my father’s shameful. Who wants to claim, “I’m Cécile because it means ‘blind,’”? I eventually found my way around it, accepting my father’s choice by adding “you know, he meant it in the same way Saint-Exupéry wrote, ‘It is only with the heart that one can rightly see; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’”
Physical and Spiritual Blindness in the Bible
Blindness is a recurrent theme in scripture. Isaac and Jacob both went blind, or almost blind, as a result of old age. Isaac was deceived because of it, whereas Jacob was able to show spiritual discernment despite it. Samson’s eyes were gouged out by the Philistines after he divulged the secret of his strength. He died shortly thereafter. And then there is Paul who went blind for three days after his dramatic encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road. To me, that Paul losing and recovering his sight gives him particular insight when he says, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” In my early twenties, it became one of my favorite verses.
I found that we have much to learn about blindness in the Gospels. Several stories of blind people being healed are reported. They are an accomplishment of prophecy. When John the Baptist doubted whether Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus replies: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight.” It echoes his reading of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Indeed, when Jesus came, he healed physical blindness.
Yet, weren’t these miracles also evidence that he was willing to do more? That he wanted to heal spiritual blindness? But is spiritual blindness a thing, anyway?
In the Old Testament God repeatedly laments the spiritual blindness of his people. To Ezekiel, he says: “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear.” In Jeremiah 5:21–22, he declares, “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear: Should you not fear me?” In Isaiah 56:10, he observes, “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge.” Spiritual blindness was their diagnosis. But it is also a judgment.
In Micah 3 God says to prophets who led Israel astray, “Therefore night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination. The sun will set for the prophets, and the day will go dark for them . . . They will all cover their faces because there is no answer from God.” Surely, the Israelites and their prophets were suffering from spiritual blindness. But would I dare to consider myself spiritually blind?
Blind in more than a name.
When I first thought about blindness in scripture, I did not think of Genesis 3. One day, however, I searched for the occurrences of the word “eye” (`ayin) in the Hebrew Old Testament. They are roughly 830 of them. Genesis 3 is the first time this word appears. The serpent tempts the woman with eating from the forbidden tree. But what does he say exactly? “You will not certainly die . . . for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” By promising her that her eyes will be opened, he implies that she was somehow blinded. And indeed, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.” Ironically, when Adam followed the serpent’s advice, his eyes were opened not to God’s glory, but to his own wretchedness. Instead of a spiritual enlightenment, he fell into spiritual darkness. He saw his nakedness and became blind to God’s goodness. Spiritual blindness dates back to the fall and the fall reaches forward and blinds me as well.
I was brought up in a Christian home, yet by nature, as Adam, I am blind to God’s truth. However, Jesus offers the antidote for he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
A few verses after Jesus’s striking declaration, the evangelist devotes a whole chapter of his gospel to the healing of a man born blind. He heals the man but troubles ensue. Neighbors first, then Pharisees are surprised by the healing. At this point in Jesus’s ministry, many events point to him being the promised Messiah. But the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Twice, the man tells his story. The third time he’s asked to tell it, he declares, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” But then, Jesus speaks some astonishing words: “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” To the Pharisees who ask, “What? Are we blind too?” he answers, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
When the Son of God was walking this earth, some people acknowledged their blindness, their sickness, their need for a savior, and they were healed. Others claimed to have a 20/20 visual acuity, to be healthy while, in fact, they were blinded by tradition, pride, and self-righteousness. They saw no need for a savior. Hence, to God’s eyes, their guilt remained.
When I first heard these verses read at church, I was mostly thinking of myself as an educated, clear-sighted Christian believer. But when I heard those words, I was taken aback. As the disciples on the night when Jesus was betrayed, I wanted to say, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?” But when we are sure of ourselves, shouldn’t we question such certainty? Shouldn’t I reassess myself? “I should, no question,” I told myself, as I remembered my journey through Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I would not have called myself a racist beforehand, but I did afterwards. Scales fell off my eyes during the reading as I discovered how much prejudice I harbored towards people of color. The same awakening might happen spiritually if I dared to face Jesus’s words.
Speaking of blind spots, I now shiver when I recall that the church of Laodicea, who boasted saying, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing,” had to realize that she was, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” What should I do, then? “Be earnest and repent.” Recognize as Job did that, “Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know . . . My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Think of myself with sober judgment. Remind myself that I should not be arrogant but tremble for I stand by faith.
As Christian, however, I am privileged. Contrary to Israelites who “could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory” and who only saw him—as well as the spiritual realities he foreshadowed—through a veil, the veil is taken away for me. Contrary to unbelievers, whose minds are blinded by the god of this age, I can see “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Hence, I “who with [an] unveiled [face] contemplate the Lord’s glory, [am] being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.”
A God Who Opens Eyes
While searching for the occurrences of the word “eye” in Hebrew, I also came across the verb paqach meaning “to open (the eyes).” Two references struck me. First, Genesis 21:19: “then God opened [Hagar’s] eyes and she saw a well of water,” second, 2 Kings 6:17: “And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.’ Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” In both instances, Hagar and Elisha’s servant experience distress. Hagar is desperate because she and her son are on the verge of dying of thirst in the desert. Elisha’s servant is afraid because a hostile army has surrounded the city during the night. In both cases, God opens their eyes to the means for their deliverance. How gracious of him to hear our cries, to provide a way out, and to reveal it to us. When suffering comes, may I remember to pray as Elisha did: “open my eyes, Lord, so I may see.”
Even more sight awaits me in glory. “Then we shall see face to face... Then we shall know fully,” proclaims Paul. John adds “we shall be like [Christ], for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” What a wonderful hope.
Today, I’m no longer ashamed that my father agreed to name me Cécile because of its meaning. On the contrary, I’m grateful he did.
Cover image by Oscar Keys.