Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Blind Receive Sight...

I don't often talk religion in this blog, but for some time, I've been mulling over an idea that might brand me a heretic in some circles. Since it's related to optimism, I think this is an appropriate place to share it, so I hope you'll indulge me.

There's a story in the gospels, found in both Matthew 11:2-6 and Luke 7:18-23, where John the Baptist, imprisoned and soon to be executed, has a moment of doubt about Jesus. He sends two of his followers to Jesus to ask if he was actually the Messiah: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus' response at first seems bizarre: "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor." This seems bizarre at first because we expect a yes or no answer, and it seems like Jesus is changing the topic. But a first century Jew would have recognized the claims Jesus was making. Every item on Jesus' list referred to Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Jesus was effectively saying, "These are the things Messiah was prophesied to do. Look around and see; I'm doing them."

Why do I bring this up? Well, let's go through this list one at a time:
  • The blind receive sight -- Check, thanks to stem cells and gene therapy.
  • The lame walk -- Check, thanks to both medical treatments and robotic legs.
  • Those who have leprosy are cured -- Check; when was the last time you heard of someone with leprosy? Even taking "leprosy" in the broader sense of "any skin disease," we can now grow human skin in a lab.
  • The deaf hear -- Check, in the most adorable way possible.
  • The dead are raised -- Alright, that's one we don't have yet, and I wouldn't hold my breath for cryogenics.
  • The good news is preached to the poor -- Check, given current poverty trends, and Peter Diamandis' observation that "a Masai warrior on a smartphone can access more information than the US President 15 years ago."
What does all this mean? Well, we can't raise the dead, so I wouldn't be looking around for a new Messiah. But it is still an astonishing fact that we have achieved five of the six signs of the Messiah's coming through technology and human innovation. These are things that were once considered so outlandish that they could only be miraculous, yet they are now possible through modern technology. And this isn't speculation or wishful thinking. Real people who were once blind can now see. Real people are using medical exoskeletons to walk when their own legs have failed them. Real babies born deaf are now given implants so early that they will never remember being deaf. It really is true-- there's never been a better time to be human.

1 comment:

  1. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

    Interesting musings. Jesus' methods were certainly more efficient, and I suspect he'll always have a monopoly on raising the dead. Although if you want to stretch, we can now often revive people whose hearts have stopped within a short time frame... That's pretty close.