One of the most difficult passages in the entire Bible (at least to me) is found in Matthew 5:29 (ESV), “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” I take everything very literally and seriously, so for years I wrestled with these haunting questions: “Does God really want each of us to blind ourselves so that we aren’t tempted to sin? If so, does he really want everyone in the entire world to go around blind? How would we survive???”
Can you imagine living in a world where none of us could see anything? What if we all really did poke out our eyes? What if the sun set and never rose again in our vision? What if we had to live in a world that was completely devoid of light and sight?
I don’t intentionally seek out at evil images, but over the course of my life, I have certainly seen things that triggered offensive thoughts. “Well” (I reasoned within myself), “Jesus didn’t say to pluck out both our eyes, just our right eye, so maybe we’d all have one eye left.” But if you’ve ever injured one eye (as I have), you’ll know that without two eyes, we don’t have depth perception, which is crucial for driving and really essential for many types of work (power equipment; even threading a sewing needle) and play (catching a ball, etc.)
God created us with eyes to see, both for our protection and for our pleasure, but I think Jesus was absolutely sincere when he said that it would be better for us to lose something essential for optimal well being in the present in order to preserve ourselves from future disaster. Would you agree with that? That much definitely makes sense to me.
Here’s what I think Jesus was actually teaching us: “Do whatever you need to do in the way of restricting yourself in order to keep from tempting yourself with evil.”
If you think about it logically, our eyes are organs in our body which are not moral agents. The eye does not literally “cause us to sin.” The eye opens and shuts either as a reflex or in response to our brain sending the message to our eye. The eye is a servant to our mind and will. As Jesus taught in Mark 7:20-22, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,22 Thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: 23 All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” So, it’s not literally our eyes that cause us to sin. Evil doesn’t start with the eye. Sin doesn’t originate in our literal, physical eye, nor can you eradicate sin by destroying your physical eyes. Temptation and sin come from deep within our heads and hearts.
Does that let us off the hook? Well, it keeps us from needing to literally gouge out our eye if we sin, but it doesn’t lessen the impact of what Jesus is teaching in any way. Allowing ourselves to look at (consider) anything that tempts us to sin is like gouging out our spiritual eyes! Sin will blind us and make it impossible to see truth. We will be stumbling around in the dark spiritually.
This is far more deadly than stumbling around in the dark physically. So, we can either gouge out our eyes metaphorically by restricting ourselves from temptation, or (in effect) gouge out our spiritual eyes so that we are blind to sin and truth. If we choose the second option, Jesus warns that our whole body might be cast into hell! If you are indulging in evil, know that you are like a blind person walking toward the edge of a precipice with no wall to stop you (such as is true at Slieve League in Ireland). Even worse, spiritual blindness leads to the danger of being thrown into hell, which is infinitely worse than being physically blind and falling off a cliff.