November 27, 2023 | J.Y. Jones

The Greatest Miracle of Jesus

An eye surgeon considers the implications of
giving sight to someone who never saw before

 

 

by J.Y. Jones M.D.

I’ve lost track of the year, but the approximate time was 2005. I was in Honduras doing one of numerous mission eye surgery trips there. The cataracts kept coming, and I felt a little bit smug about the wonderful results and the praise I was getting from patients done the day before, hardly a glitch in a single case. One might say I was exhibiting that deadly phenomenon known as pride, a selfish flaw that God will not tolerate indefinitely.

I emerged from the operating area after another successful case, and turned my attention back to the crowded waiting room at Hospital Evangelico. My next exam would be a baby, and from what I’d heard about the patient from the nurses, I hoped it would be a simple case of congenital cataracts. I was fairly experienced at the procedure to correct this fault, so I stepped confidently into the exam room, where an extremely poor but smiling couple, dressed quite shabbily, with ill-fitting old clothes, a tear or missing button here and there. I was amazed to see that the baby, however, was dressed in a relatively expensive tiny new dress, had new shoes on her little feet, and a pink crocheted cap on her head. She was resting quietly in the arms of her mother. I hoped again this would be a regular case of congenital cataract, because they had probably spent beyond their means just to dress their baby to see me, the big, proud Gringo doctor who made people see again. She looked perfectly normal in form and development, but that assessment would quickly change.

I had them place the child on the exam table, and she whimpered a bit as expected. Like all babies, she closed her eyes tightly, so I called for a couple of Q-tips amid loud crying and I then forced each one open. It was a bit of a struggle to get a good look, but I did, and I was floored by what I found. My heart sank as I realized I was looking at a case of classical microphthalmia, almost anophthalmia! The eyes were smaller than a pea, pink and firm, and obviously had no potential to see. I simply couldn’t help it, I teared up and told them that only God could repair such a problem. I tried to express my sympathy, but my words sounded far too hollow, too insensitive, dripping liquid hopelessness, so I sat down in a chair, held my head in my hands, and just cried—as quietly as I could. I simply couldn’t do anything, so I called for my wife Linda to come and pray for them (and for me—I was quite obviously destroyed and my humility was back in its rightful place again; any lingering pride had been banished, I hoped forever). When I had recovered enough to speak, I told them to please take good care of the little girl, raise her to have faith, and be diligent to include her in all parts of life in as normal a way as possible. I also told them that she might seem to be a burden now, but that she would become one of the greatest blessings in their life. Their reaction naturally was disappointment, but they surely must have noticed that I cared. I still pray for them, and the baby, sometimes.

The story is told in the Gospel of John, ch. 9. Click the picture to read it.

What the Lord Can Do

Nobody knows if the “man born blind” in John 9 of the Holy Bible, who was healed by Jesus, had microphthalmia or some other condition, but whatever the problem he had been sightless for many years. Severe microphthalmia is often coupled with other congenital problems, but apparently both he and my infant patient had been spared these malfunctions.

As the title states, the healing of the subject man by Jesus is what I consider the greatest miracle recorded in the Gospels. Yes, Jesus raised Lazarus to life after he’d been in the tomb for four days, and maybe that’s bigger, but of course I don’t have any personal experience in that area. I have pondered endlessly about what Jesus had to do to restore vision to such a man “born blind,” and it really gets complicated quickly. First, whatever was wrong with the eyes themselves had to be restored to normality, with perfectly clear cornea, lens, and fluids in each eye. Next, the complex retina that lines the inside of vertebrate eyes would have to be corrected, including the nerve fiber layer with its blood supply (which exits at the back of the eye to form the optic nerve to send visual impulses to the brain). Next comes the ganglion cell layer and the photoreceptors (rods and cones) with correct visual pigments, all properly connected and perfectly oriented close to the vascular choroid from which their oxygen and nourishment are obtained. That was an obvious complex task that Jesus apparently handled easily.

The vertebrate eye showing some of the main features.

Next, the massive amount and number of unused neurons that connect the eyes to the brain required attention. The optic nerves would not have developed, the lateral geniculate bodies would be atrophic, the optic tracts and radiation would be unable to transmit the visual impulse, and the occipital lobe of the brain would be incapable of processing vision. Recent studies show that in such a person the actual occipital cortex can be paradoxically thicker, but that doesn’t imply function1. The best explanation for this is that these areas, being unused, failed to perform “dendritic pruning,” a process that occurs naturally in normal nerve tissue, and its absence allows large amounts of nonfunctional nervous tissue to accumulate2. All these structures would need major revision by Jesus in order to prepare to establish vision.

The most difficult part, it would seem, would be establishing cortical vision, primarily in the occipital lobe, but there are retinal connections to several areas higher in the brain, such as the parietal lobe, as well as to other parts of the brain3,4. The ways these are structured and how they work are still obscure, but the Creator knows all that’s needed to reestablish them.

Of course, even with perfect vision, the man would have been greatly handicapped by the need to navigate by visual cues instead of feeling his way along. These cues we who have normal vision all use effectively, they are extremely important, but are by no means completely understood. Mostly these visual cues and how they’re involved with body movement have been studied in patients with Parkinson’s disease, for the obvious reason that sightless people who were born that way but recovered perfect vision are pretty hard to find.5  Little is understood about the overall effect blindness has on the proprioceptors in skeletal muscle, which give us awareness of body position and movement. It seems logical that in the absence of visual cues, these would have developed either in a different manner or not at all. For the man to walk normally after his healing would have required a rewiring of his entire body nervous system, as well as the essential proprioceptor array.


The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made them both. Proverbs 20:12

So is the healing of the man born blind the greatest miracle performed by Jesus? It’s certainly my favorite, but whether it’s the greatest no man knows. There are about forty miracles recorded in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and this healing and the raising of Lazarus stand out somewhat. However, the last verse of the Gospel of John makes an amazing statement: “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.”6

There could be a bit of hyperbole in that statement, but it leaves a lot of room for even more spectacular miracles, such as the creation of life and the trillions of galaxies, all the work of Jesus Christ7.

References

  1. Thick Visual Cortex in the Early Blind, Journal of Neuroscience, February 200929 (7) 2205-2211; http://koi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5451-08.2009
  2. NeuroImage, Volume 128, March 2016, pp 362-372: Congenital blindness is associated with large-scale reorganization of anatomical networks;UriHasson, Michael Andric, Hicret Atilgan, Olivier Collignon
  3. What Visual Perception tells us about Mind and Brain, October 16, 2001, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.221383698 Shinsuke Shimojo, Michael Paradiso, and Ichiro Fujita
  4. https://nba.uth.tmc.edu/neuroscience/m/s2/chapter15.html#:~:text=They%20include%20the%20hypothalamus%2C%20pretectum%20and%20the%20superior%20colliculus.&text=The%20vast%20majority%20of%20optic,thalamus%20(Figure%2015.3A)
  5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fspor.2020.00022/full; Visual Cues Promote Head First Strategies During Walking Turns in People with Parkinson’s Disease (T. Baker, J. Pitman, M.J. MacLellan, R.J. Reed-Jones.
  6. The Holy Bible, NASB, The Gospel of John 21:25
  7. The Holy Bible, John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2.

J.Y. Jones MD has been an eye physician and surgeon for five decades. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran, speaks Spanish, and has volunteered in 28 overseas eye-surgery mission trips. He has received numerous awards for writing and photography, and is a frequent speaker at sportsmen’s events, where he particularly enjoys sharing his Christian testi­mony. J.   Y. and his wife Linda have been married since 1964.

Dr. Jones is an avid hunter who has taken all North American big game species using the same Remington .30-06 rifle, resulting in the book One Man, One Rifle, One Land (Safari Press, 2001); Dr. Jones helped Safari Press produce the Ask the Guides series, their most successful North American hunting books. He has written 14 books and some 300 short articles for various periodicals. For more articles by Dr Jones, visit his Author Profile page.

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