Spiritual Scotoma - Spiritual Blind Spots of Sin - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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Inflected Form(s): plural -mas or sco·to·ma·ta
Etymology: New Latin, from Medieval Latin, dimness of vision, from Greek skotomat-, skotoma, from skotoun to darken, from skotos [Date: 1875]
Noun – a blind or dark spot in the visual field.
Have you ever had a dirty garage that you simply did not get around to cleaning up? Maybe it was some carpenter’s project that you pushed to the side and it just continued to clutter the garage from there. Tools are amiss, sawdust sprawls the floor, nails are kicked off to the edge of the garage to avoid tires from being punctured – all because you just do not have the time to clean it all up. You certainly take notice of the garage and its messiness each time you walk out to your car to get in it and drive off to work each morning. Or maybe you ride a bike each day and the bikes were stored there so you see the mess before and after each bike ride. In any case, you are exposed to the mess daily, and then, slowly, without warning, without any more thought, you become used to the mess. This is often interesting, especially when we “come around” to remembering that the garage is actually a mess and then take the proper actions to clean it up. That may be over the course of a Saturday, or a particular clean up night during the week. (Of course you would never defile the Lord’s Day to do such a thing!)
I know you have heard of the proverbial frog in the pot. Here is the frog that sits in warm water in a pot on the stove. The heat is gradually turned up and the water slowly boils. In the end the frog is stewed and is killed as a result of the slow rise in temperature – and all the while he thought he was taking a warm bath. The frog would certainly jump from the pot of the heat was applied quickly, but in the slow measure of its degree it goes unnoticed until he is dead and it is too late. This is the same a when your wife comes home to see the garage a mess and it shocks her, though you may be used to it.
Both of those illustrations preface my ideas on Scotoma. For those in the medical field, this may not be new to you. For those, like me, who are not as astute on this medical problem, here is what it means:
DESCRIPTION: Portion(s) of the retinal field that are non-functional (i.e., blind areas). Scotomas may be central, if caused by macular or optic nerve disease, or peripheral if the result of chorioretinal lesions or retinal holes. Field testing, if carefully done, can identify the areas affected.
TREATMENT: There is no treatment for scotomas.
When they are in the peripheral areas and are not large, they usually do not cause severe problems in general visual functioning. If the scotomas are large or numerous, mobility may be affected.
Central scotomas are another situation entirely. Functional acuity is severely affected and educational adjustments are indicated. Magnification or large print may be indicated. Higher levels of illumination and good contrast in reading materials may also be useful. Color perception may be affected.
This is a saddening medical problem. And there is no cure. I am glad that spiritual Scotoma is not the same.
Spiritual truths sometimes hit us in the exact same manner as Scotoma. Well, I should rephrase that. They really do not hit us and that is the problem! If they did hit us, then we would take them much more seriously. Spiritual problems for the Christian are not something that suddenly comes upon us. Satan is far too clever to simply show up as the Devil in full figure. Rather, he comes as an angel of light. For the Christian, the water in the pot heats up very slowly – and it may even be done over a period of years. There is a great amount of spiritual surgery that needs to take place when we have spiritual blind spots because of sin. What do I mean? Let us look at the idea of prayer.
Prayer is the soul breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father. It is the Word of God taken, processed, and retorted back to God again – that He would “make good” on His promises. Prayer is something that can be very powerful for the Christian – “for the effectual fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).” It can also be something which suffers greatly from a type of spiritual Scotoma. For instance, let us imagine there is a Christian who seems to feel that his prayers are bouncing off the ceiling of his prayer closet. He is persuaded that the duty of prayer should continue, but that the essence of the power of prayer is not sensed. He seems to be beating his proverbial head against the wall. Over a period of time, prayer becomes drudgery. Then drudgery is accepted as normative. Here spiritual declension has taken hold in a great measure. Then prayer becomes rote. It may be that this Christian shifts the time of day he prays to attempt to stir things up. Maybe he decides to take a different posture in prayer, from kneeling to sitting. Maybe he decides to drink his coffee in the morning while praying to keep awake. When all this is said and done, he is still struggling through prayer. The time of his prayers are shorted. He gets to the “point” much quicker, thinking he is using his time wisely (at least he can do that!) He does not bring petitions to prayers as he once did – coupled with thanksgivings. Now his mind is more taken up with thoughts of needs and desires – life struggles – desperations – that God may be able to help with; but now it is always that way. He would look back 6 months and wonder where his desire to adore God as gone. It is easy for prayer to become a grocery list rather than a time of praise and worship to God. But after a while of such rote action, what is to be expected? His prayers are now not exciting; they are boring. I am certainly not suggesting that he should become a sensual Christian (one who relies mainly on his feelings.) But there is an excitement that can be gained about “coming boldly before the throne of grace.” If he continues along this path, we certainly know the outcome of all this – ultimately he may leave off prayer altogether. However, since the lethargy is setting in, the basic problem begins to raise it head. It takes a while for him to snap out of all this because he has a fundamental problem with his mind. His mind? Yes.
The problem with spiritual declension is always fundamentally a problem with the mind. To be blind to a particular problem is always the Christian’s potential burden – Scotoma is always lurking to take hold and create blind spots. But the remedy of this is always an attitude of the mind. Take this poor Christian who is struggling with prayer. Is he struggling with sitting down and watching a two and a half hour movie that he waited for 3 months to hit the theaters? Is he struggling with eating his dinner that night? Is he struggling with the vacation coming up next week? No, not at all. Have you ever heard of anyone saying that they are struggling to eat the delicious apple pie set before them (and I exclude those trying to watch their weight here!) Though he is not struggling with all of this – he is still struggling with prayer. Why?
Scotoma comes upon people slowly but surely. It causes them to lose their valuable sight because the “dot” or “blind spot” affects their vision. If all people had physical Scotoma, we would be a sad society indeed. It would be difficult to simply move around, or walk down the street. We would ultimately be used of the blind spots, but the moment we began thinking about those blind spots the reality of their difficult comes to light. What is the reality behind spiritual Scotoma? It is a settling in of things used to and a failure of spiritually motivating one’s self to grow in grace – that is why it is a problem of the mind. Christianity is not all “touchy-feely”. The true preacher is not up there in the pulpit to give the congregation “warm fuzzies” across our bellies while they sit and listen to him. Rather, his job is to move Christians into a more intimate relationship with the Christ of the Godhead. His privilege is to carefully and prayerfully exegete the Scriptures, week after week, and to bring vibrant sermons which move Christians from one level of spiritual walking to another. Christian devotions serve the same purpose – to bring God’s people higher in religion that they were the day before. Surely all things Christians do are to be directed and pointed to God’s glory – but I think you are getting my point. It is when we begin to become lethargic that spiritual Scotoma sets in. We gain blind spots on our spiritual eye towards becoming more intimate with Christ, and as a result, slowly but surely, we lose the first love we had some time ago, because we fail to see Him clearly. Devotions are usually the first to go, and then church and fellowship, and ultimately such people become apostate. This is a sad case indeed.
The possibility of spiritual Scotoma is inherent in every Christian. We are still sinners, though saved by grace, and this oddity called “the flesh” loves to turn in the other direction that where the Spirit desires us to walk (Gal 5:16ff). Walking in the Spirit is tough stuff. We have the world, the flesh and the devil out after us, and we would much rather give into sin than make strides of spiritual progress. Giving into sin is much easier and seems to us to be sweeter than the spiritual struggle. Now understand, “sin” many not means heinous public sin. It could simply be the lethargy that surrounds your devotional life. It may simply be the dulled attitude or dampened enthusiasm you used to have to sit down and study the Bible. But after a while those spiritual blind spots emerge and you settle for what you have and do not even see the need for a spiritual overhaul. The garage of your life is a mess, but you simply are used to it. Sometimes it does take a wife, or faithful friend to help someone see his or her spiritual blind spots. Sometimes it takes an article on a website to arouse our “self-examining” powers (or it may even take writing an article to post on a website to stir us up!) Whatever the case may be, we always need to look in the mirror to see whether or not we have this spiritual Scotoma hindering our walk with Christ.
What are we able to do in order to overcome Spiritual Scotoma of the heart? Well, I think it may first be helpful to understand the cause of spiritual Scotoma – where does it come from and how to we get it? It comes over time – yes. It comes when we are least expecting it – yes. But who brings it to us and why do we fall for it? Here we must take a moment and consider the dreadful enemy of our soul, “the flesh.”
To know what to do with the “flesh” is first to know what the flesh is doing to you. In order to understand this, we need to compare “the old man” and “the flesh.” There is a difference between them you know. See, Christians should never have Spiritual Scotoma. The reason being, the old man, who was dominated by blindness, is now dead. So there is no need for us ever to have Spiritual Scotoma in the first place. What happens is that we allow the flesh to attempt to dominate us, when all along, we should be concentrating on walking in the Spirit day by day.
Let us first look at some Scriptures which talk about the old man. Romans 6:6 says, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” Ephesians 4:22 states, “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.” And Colossians 3:9 says, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.” What does the Greek text say in relation to “old man?” The adjective “old” for “old man” is palaio.j palaios, an adjective, nominative masculine singular meaning “old” or “former”. The word for man is the common New Testament word a;nqrwpoj anthropos, and it is a noun, nominative masculine singular meaning, simply, “man.” This old man (no not the children’s tune…) is what brought forth death in us, and holds the spiritual blindness of the unregenerate as its sign and seal. Romans 7:5-6 points this out quite well, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” Ok, then, at this point we need to turn to a syllogism/catechism in order to differentiate between the old man and the flesh, proper speaking. Hopefully this will not be too confusing, as syllogisms go, and you can see where I am headed:
1. What is the old man?
Answer: The old man is the man, or state of being, in the unregenerate state; the state of the stony heart.
2. What nature is the old man dominated by?
Answer: The old man is dominated by the sin nature, otherwise known as the flesh.
3. What does God fully remove from us when we are saved?
Answer: The old stony heart of the old man has been removed.
4. What does God replace the stony heart with?
Answer: A new heart has replaced it. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” And be reminded, the “heart” equals the inner man or inner parts.
5. Regeneration, or receiving a new heart instills in us…what?
Answer: New principles of life have been instilled in us. That is the new man, or the regenerate man.
6. Do we have our old heart or has God given us a new heart?
Answer: God has given us a new heart and the old heart is taken away
7. Can the old man live without his heart?
Answer: The old man cannot live without his heart.
8. Is the old man dead?
Answer: He is dead. Dead as a doornail, as Dickens would say. (Lest this whole story be misunderstood!)
9. Though God has instilled in us a new principle of life, killing the old man who is now dead, has God removed our sinful nature from us, or “the flesh”?
Answer: The remnants of sin still remain in us until the day of our death, or of redemption at the second coming of the Lord.
11. What is the “flesh”?
Answer: By the flesh is to be understood the corruption of man’s nature by original sin, which corruption may be understood either as a habit or as an act.
12. Are Christians dominated by sin?
Answer: Because the Spirit dominates the Christian, and the old man, or old state of being, is dead.
14. Thus, what is the old man?
Answer: The old man is a state of being – men in their unregenerate state
We were a certain kind of men. Now we are not that kind of man anymore.
Therefore, there is a distinction between “the old man” and “the flesh.”
15. Do Christians currently war against the flesh?
Answer: Scripture states in Romans 13:14, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Or with 2 Cor. 12:7, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” Or with Gal. 5:24, “And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Hopefully this has helped make a distinction between the old man and the flesh. We are against the flesh, but the old man is dead. Scotoma of the heart, then, is an attempt by the flesh at trying to dominate the new man with old principles of sin.
We are to be constantly crucifying the flesh, though the old man is crucified and dead. Have you ever seen a movie where a dying man is crawling or struggling to stay alive? Crucifying the flesh takes on the same picture in many ways. Crucified does not always mean “dead.” It always means that it will ultimately die, but not on the spot. That is not the nature of Crucifixion. Crucifixion takes a long time to occur. It is a long arduous death. You are the Roman soldier constantly on watch against the flesh as it dies on the cross, but the flesh desires to have its resurrection ahead of time. The flesh is looking for the old man to revive, but the old man is dead and the flesh simply does not know this, or it does not care. The flesh is looking to conquer the old man as it had done, but now wars with the Spirit. This is the nature of the struggle we have as Christians.
So then we see, Christians are not bound as the old man once was. Rather, the Christian should be warring against the flesh to crucify it. There are ways to do this so that Spiritual Scotoma never takes affect.
First, we should make a distinction between those who are truly saved, and those who are lost and think they are saved. Killing the flesh will never happen, in any degree, with spiritually unregenerate men. As Augustine notes, “The natural man is afraid to burn in hell but is not afraid to sin.” Natural men sin. Bottom line. Spiritual examination in light of the Word of God is the only thing that can bear this out.
Second, we must have an attitude towards the flesh as redeemed Christians that the principle to remember is the same principle seen all through the Bible, even from the beginning, “How can I do this great wickedness and so sin against God?” We sin against the Holy God of the Universe, against the very blood of Christ, when we sin – something the devils do not even do since they are not redeemed.
So we ask, “What can we do in Mortifying Sin?” 1) Listen to what conscience shall say to you when you are tempted to any sin. As Christopher Love said, “Conscience is God’s spy.” God set’s the conscience to work in us to mortify sin. Romans 2:15 directs us about the conscience: “which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” Listening and heeding must go hand in hand. It would not be wise to push off the conscience. It is our aid in the war against Spiritual blind spots that develop by spiritual declension.
2) Be sure you give no occasion of sin to the flesh. This is simple, but very important. That means you should be keeping away from all triggers that could potentially ruin you, or lead you into sin. “Does that men if I lust after men or women (depending on the case) that the Mall is a place I should not attend?” Yes!! Do whatever it takes to keep the triggers away. They are the most obvious pitfalls. You should especially watch out for bosom sins. Bosom sins are those that create large amounts of Scotoma in a reasonably short amount of time. Christopher Love said, “Be very careful to shun and avoid all occasions to which you are most strongly addicted.” This is helpful only if we heed it. But as Paul said in 1 Thess. 5:22, “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” Yes, even the appearance of it.
3) A third help against the possibility of Spiritual blind spots is that we should never meditate on the pleasures of sin. Sin is fun? Pleasurable? Yes it is. But only for a time. That is part and parcel of Satan’s great trick to offer the bait and hide the hook. Instead of trying to eat the proverbial carrot of the end of the stick dangling in front of us, we should be mediating and filling our minds with that which is good. It is not enough to war against the flesh, but to put on the new man as well. Phil. 4:8 states this nicely, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” Is this where your mind is?
4) Resist your lusts quickly. Do not wait! Do not ponder them. Do not mediate on them (#3 above). Quickly withstand a lust or corruption in its very first appearance or working in your heart. This is a radical dealing with sin. It should be a fast and furious mortification. Jesus says in Matthew 5:29, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
5) On a positive note, Christians should always cherish and entertain the Sprit’s motions in them when they find Him dissuading them from sin. That is why the Spirit has a particular kind of fruit. Gal. 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is…” and you know the rest. We should be filling our days with His fruit, not our own.
6) Never make peace with sin. Never give in or let up in tracking it down and killing it. You are to dominate it completely. Genesis 4:7 says, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”
7) Resist every sin. That means that no matter how big or small the sin is, you should mortify and kill it. Scotoma is like the frog in the pot, remember? The water heats up slowly. By letting certain “small” insignificant sins pass by without mortifying them, they quickly turn into a messy garage and then there is lots of cleaning up to accomplish. Rather, follow what Paul says in Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil.”
8) Pray and Fast! We should be spending inordinate amounts of time in importunate prayer to God against the corruption that troubles us the most. Yes, as Paul again says in Eph. 6:18, “praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful.” Are we watchful? How can we watch if we have Scotoma? We would watch with blind spots! Then we fight an uphill battle. Does it matter if just one piece of “sin” is out of place in our spiritual garage? One bit of it makes the possibility of Scotoma all the more easily grow and infect the Christian. That means you may even want to take time to fast for anything that may be creeping up or growing in the corner of your own spiritual garage. Exercise yourself in a regular habit of solemn fasting for that particular sin you are most inclined to. Be sure you “let the Lord know by prayer and fasting” the sin that troubles you most. And then do it all for the little sins as well! We should be praying and fasting like athletes. 1 Cor. 9:25-27 says, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
9) And one of the most important exercises you can do to keep Spiritual Scotoma from setting in is to meditate. Meditation is hard work! Meditate on Christ’s death daily. Philippians 3:10 states, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” This should envelop the entire thought life of the Christian.
Hopefully you can read this short article clearly. Hopefully spiritual Scotoma has not already set in. If it has, you probably missed points 1, 6, and 9 – go read them again from a different angle on your computer screen. That is what happens when we have those blind spots – we do not even know they are there. It is a good thing for us that Spiritual Scotoma is not permanent and can be dealt with. Do you know if you have it? Do you want to deal with it? Every Christian has a little of it. Every Christian has a little mess in the garage. Think of it as the big mess that God does and clean it up! Go to the Great Physician and ask Him to take the scales away from your eyes. Ask Him to perform a bit of spiritual surgery on you by pouring out great amounts of grace. Maybe that will be in the form of a Bible passage, a book, a full time of prayer, a web article, a pastor, a friend, or a husband or wife. In whatever form it takes, listen to it and heed it. Be helped by it as the prescription that the Great Physician has given in order to keep from spiritual declension and blind spots that could cause further peril.
Sometimes we go to the doctor and he tells us things we do not want to hear. Hopefully this little article is something you do want to hear. If you do not, then repent. If you do, then may it be a blessing.
There was a blacksmith who bought a new dog. He tied the dog by a leash to the anvil in the blacksmith’s shop. All through the day he pounded way, sparks went flying, the fire roared and the blacksmith hummed his tune while the new dog barked and barked. The dog would just not stop barking at all the commotion and noise. A visitor, coming to pick up the piece of molded iron he need, noticed the dog’s barking and howling and all the noise that the shop regularly had anyway. He was quick to leave. It was imply too loud for him to stay. About a week later he came back in need of another piece of molded iron for his business. To his surprise the sparks were flying, the fire roaring, the anvil making loud crashing sounds as the blacksmith pounded away as he had always done, and he was singing his usual tune. However, at the foot of the anvil, the dog, now used to the sounds after a week’s time, was fast asleep.