In 1950 I made my first trip to London, England, and at one point found myself riding a bus around Trafalgar Square. In the middle of the square is a very tall column – Nelson’s column – to honor one of the greatest of England’s Admirals. I was very impressed.
Some time later my British friends told me the story of Lord Nelson, taking special pleasure in recounting how he behaved during the Battle of Copenhagen. His fellow sailors pointed out that the Admiral of the fleet had set signal flags to tell the ships to back off. Nelson had lost an eye in an earlier battle. His sailors marveled as he took his telescope, and put it in front of his blind eye, saying: “I really do not see the signal.” They won the battle, and the next day he was appointed Commander-in-chief of the fleet, replacing the man who had tried to get them to retreat.
At that time Nelson was forty-three years old. Four years later he was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar, and one of London’s busiest intersections was named after that event.
He had turned a blind eye, and it had worked for him.
Now in common usage, this expression is sometimes to criticize people who wilfully ignore something they should notice, but in our Spiritual Growth program, we use it to mean something really important to our state of mind.
This positive meaning goes back to the Bible, where, in Isaiah 42:18,19, the Lord is said to be both deaf and blind. And what does that mean? It means that God does not look critically at our shortcomings, or judge us harshly for our imperfections. He knows our limitations, and gently and loving leads us away from evil to good. The prophet Habakkuk says: “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil.” Habakkuk 1:13
It can be hard for humans to follow this example. We tend to focus on the mistakes and errors of others. We would be in a better spiritual state if we did what Noah’s two sons, Japheth and Shem did, when the brothers found their father drunk and naked. Instead of drawing attention to their father’s shame, they took a blanket, and walked backward so that they could drape it over him until he sobered up. God blessed both of them for “turning a blind eye” to their father’s shameful behavior. Genesis 9:20-27
Jesus talked about the same thing when he asked people why they noticed the speck of dust in their brother’s eye but did not realize they had a huge plank of wood in their own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42