16 Aug 2017

Blind, but 20/20 Vision: St. Augustine, Tobit and the Eyes of Faith

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Apocrypha, Church, Church History, Discipleship, Faith, Tobit

Tobit being healed by Jacques Blanchard (1600-1638)

Every year as we make our journey thru the Bible we come to that part between Malachi and Matthew that I playfully term the “Middle Testament.” Protestants have traditionally used the word “Apocrypha” for these books but for American Evangelicals that is more of pejorative term than for Martin Luther or John Calvin. So recently we have been reading Tobit. I share John Purvey’s, and Martin Luther’s opinion of Tobit, it is a spiritual treasure.

One of the most frequent teaching in the Bible has to do with having eyes and ears but we are blind and deaf. Sometimes, this teaching comes as a lament and sometimes it is an exhortation. Isaiah records Yahweh’s lament that his people “stop their ears” and “shut their eyes.” Jesus quotes Isaiah in Matthew 13 and says they see but do not “perceive” and hear but never “understand.” It is indeed a sad commentary on the nature of God’s people. We often have memorized lots of Scripture in our head but never come to an understanding of what it says. We parade our loyalty to the “pattern” but do not quite smell like Jesus.

Augustine, the great African church father, believed there was a whole book “in the Bible” (Tobit was in Augustine’s Latin Bible) that addressed the spiritual condition of having eyes but failure to see. Tobit was a man who was blind but had eyes to see.  Tobit, according to Augustine, was a challenge to God’s people and ironically being blind he was exactly what God wanted.

Augustine refers to Tobit many times in his sermons. But it was in a sermon on the Psalms that he brings the story before his congregation in Africa. And since I am reading the Psalms and we just finished Tobit, I thought I would share his insight.

Augustine simply assumes everyone in his church knows the story of Tobit by heart. Tobit is sort of a Job figure. Though in Exile he courageously lives for God, he sacrificed to care for the poor, he assumes the risk of burying the dead, even when it is against the law. But like Job, his faith leads to suffering. He is blinded which threatens his family and even possible death. But he refused to leave God. He was blind and helpless! This is where Augustine picks up in his sermon. I quote,

Tobit was blind, yet he taught his son the way of God. You know this is true because Tobit advised his son, ‘Give alms, my son, for almsdeeds save you from departing into darkness’ [Tobit 4.7, 11, Old Latin]; yet the speaker was in darkness himself … He had no fear that his son might say in his heart, ‘Did you not give alms yourself? Why, then, are you talking to me out of your blindness? Darkness is where almsgiving has evidently led you, so how can you advise me that ‘almsdeeds save you from departing into darkness?‘”

Augustine notes that for those who have eyes, and cannot see, Tobit’s confidence looks misguided at best. It is dangerous even because serving God has no rewards. So Augustine asks his congregation, “How could Tobit give that advice to his son with such confidence?” It was because God gave Tobit to show us what true vision looks like. Though blind, Tobit has 20-20 vision. The great African preacher explained.

It is only because he [Tobit] habitually saw another light. The son held his father’s hand to help him walk, but the father taught his son the way, that he might live. The other light that Tobit (though blind) saw, of course, is the light of FAITH!” (Expositions of the Psalms, vol 2, Psalms 73-98, p. 456)

Through his faith in Yahweh, the blind man, Tobit not only taught his son (Tobias) the way of sight but, according to Augustine, continues to do so “to this day.” Tobit, ironically, is blessed. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see and your ears, for they hear.

The blind man sees. Sadly God’s people often do not. Augustine called his congregation to be like Tobit, have 20-20 vision through faith.


One Response to “Blind, but 20/20 Vision: St. Augustine, Tobit and the Eyes of Faith”

  1. Swango Says:

    Thanks for posting about this. Tobit is a great read!! It had always been part of the Christian Bible until the Protestants.

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