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How My Work as a Doctor Transformed My Understanding of This Frequently Used Scripture Phrase

In the scriptures, blindness is a metaphor for disbelief and vision is figuratively or literally a description of receiving revelation. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that the "eyes are a representation of light and knowledge" (D&C 77:44).

The scriptures are full of these neuro-ophthalmology (a subspecialty of medicine dealing with the connections between the brain and the eyes) references, such as stories that deal with blindness or transient vision loss. For example, Saul, who became Paul, experienced three days of blindness after his stunning conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:9). The Gospel of Mark tells the story of a blind man that Jesus healed in stages (Mark 8:22-26). Or consider the man born blind in John 9 that Jesus found in the temple. Jesus healed blindness using unexpected means (Jesus daubed the blind man’s eyes with mud) that required additional faith (Jesus asked the blind man to walk down a steep road alone to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam).

Having a Single Eye

A common phrase in the scriptures is having an eye single to the glory of God. The word “single” is used in scriptures 12 times. Ten of these refer to the eye as single, and one refers to the mind as single. This phrase appears in Jesus’s beloved Sermon on the Mount. Between His instruction to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth and His instruction to serve God and not Mammon, Jesus said, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt 6:22-23, emphasis added).

This phrase is also found in the often-quoted D&C 4:5, “And faith, hope, charity, and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.” So, scriptures readers are likely familiar with this phrase.

But have we thought about what it means? Why such a peculiar term?

This phrase just jumped off the page for me one day. After all, I work with patients almost every day who struggle to have single or focused vision, but somehow I had never connected my knowledge in medicine with this scriptural concept. Previously, I thought of this basically as a warning against self-righteousness and seeking personal glory. However, as I mulled over it, I realized there were layers of meaning in this phrase. Here are two examples of problems that arise from a lack of single vision and how they relate to the gospel:

1. Which image is real?

Allow me to explore double vision for a moment to help illustrate the importance of single vision.

Image confusion is the major problem with double vision. It’s not the double image that is the problem as much as the fact that the two images overlap so that we are unable tell what is the true, straight-ahead object. For example, people often describe trouble while driving. They see two cars and they are not sure which one is the real car. Of course, both cars are "real." It is just a matter of which car goes with which image.

So, what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Even if we are focused on doing right, if there is any doubling of our vision, we can become confused. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about serving two masters: God and Mammon. If our vision is not focused and single, we can get confused about our priorities and worldliness slips in appearing to be the straight-ahead image.

The Book of Mormon has a number of stories of individuals or nations that lost their focus and confused their priorities through this spiritual “double vision.”

The people of evil King Noah are an instructive example. They had been a righteous people, but then they became, in the words of the scriptures, “idolatrous.” How did that happen? The wicked leaders of their society put worldly things in front of their eyes. They began to confuse their priorities. They still believed in God and they probably considered themselves righteous, but they lost track of true discipleship of Jesus Christ.

This was a classic case of spiritual double vision.

We need to remember the greatest commandment and especially the first of the 10 commandments: Love the Lord thy God and have no other gods before Him.

In his October 2013 general conference talk “No Other Gods,” Elder Oaks describes this problem in terms of priorities.

“What other priorities are being 'served' ahead of God by persons—even religious persons—in our day? Consider these possibilities, all common in our world:

  • • Cultural and family traditions
  • • Political correctness
  • • Career aspirations
  • • Material possessions
  • • Recreational pursuits
  • • Power, prominence, and prestige

If none of these examples seems to apply to any one of us, we can probably suggest others that do. The principle is more important than individual examples. The principle is not whether we have other priorities. The question posed . . . is 'What is our ultimate priority?' Are we serving priorities or gods ahead of the God we profess to worship? Have we forgotten to follow the Savior who taught that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (see John 14:15)? If so, our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.”

President Uchtdorf added the following in his October 2010 general conference talk, “Of Things that Matter Most:” “Amidst the multitude of voices and choices, the humble Man of Galilee stands with hands outstretched, waiting. His is a simple message: 'Come, follow me.' And He does not speak with a powerful megaphone but with a still, small voice. It is so easy for the basic gospel message to get lost amidst the deluge of information that hits us from all sides.”

When the scriptures teach us to have an eye single to the glory of God, we are being taught to be aware of image confusion—we need to have God in front of us and not allow any other priority to overlap with that ultimate priority.

2. Losing Perspective

Another problem related to double vision is loss of depth perception. When our two eyes work together, we get certain 3D information that is often lost with double vision.

If we keep our eye focused on eternal things, then worldly things should be easier to keep in proper perspective. However, once again, if our vision is not single, it becomes harder to keep the proper perspective.

When Alma preaches in the city of Gideon, he finds that the people are not struggling with priority challenges, as were the Saints of Zarahemla. Instead, he points out that they’ve lost the sense of what is most important—their perspective, “I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren; I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches and the vain things of the world; yea, I trust that you do not worship idols, but that ye do worship the true and the living God” (Alma 7:6).

Alma then teaches them how to have an eye single. He does so by teaching and testifying about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice and saving power. Alma gives his people perspective or gospel depth perception.

Elsewhere, Alma explains the importance of perspective. He said, “God gave unto [the people] commandments, after having made known unto them the plan of redemption” (Alma 12:32). Before God gave commandments, He taught His plan. Understanding God’s plan helps us keep His commandments. If we lose our perspective, it becomes harder to keep our standards.

Causes of spiritual double vision

Double vision comes about because of some imperfection in the visual system. The ocular structures are distorted or the nerve control is imbalanced and unyoked. These ocular imperfections and unyoked eye muscles seem analogous to sin and unbridled passions, which are the causes of spiritual double vision.

Elder Oaks has said, “Our priorities have been turned upside down by the spiritual apathy and undisciplined appetites so common in our day.” Pride is probably the most common ailment leading to spiritual double vision. In Lehi’s vision of the tree of life, there were those who made it to the tree of life and partook of that fruit which is most delicious, yet “after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8:28). These individuals were suffering from spiritual double vision. They were able to make it through the mist of darkness, but once they arrived at the tree they got the great and spacious building in front of them and developed spiritual image confusion.

How to develop an eye single to the glory of God

In my practice, there is a whole spectrum of treatment options for physical double vision depending on what’s wrong and how bad it is. The common thread connecting all the treatment options is the need for a physician to diagnose the correct cause and prescribe the correct treatment. Each treatment requires something from the patient and something from the physician.

For spiritual double vision, Jesus Christ is our Master Healer. He will prescribe the right treatment. And if spiritual surgery is needed, He can do what needs to be done; you’ll be in good hands.

Moroni teaches us that through Christ, we can have our spiritual vision imperfections removed:

“Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).

I echo the scriptures as I add my caution against spiritual double vision. Let’s take a look at our lives and examine our priorities to see where our vision is focused. Let’s seek out spiritual experiences like temple worship and other activities that will remind us of our eternal goals and help us keep an eternal perspective. Inevitably, we will lose focus from time to time. So we must continually return to Jesus our Physician and Savior who can heal us by focusing our eye single to His glory and our salvation.

For a recent personal story and journey about living with double vision see "I looked Down, Saw Two Hands and Four Feet, Closed One Eye and Keeled Over" from The Washington Post

Lead image from lds.org

Taylor Halverson is a BYU Teaching and Learning Consultant. He recently helped edit the new book Knowing Why: 137 Evidences that the Book of Mormon is True and has published and presented widely on scripture, innovation, entrepreneurship, technology, teaching, and learning and has PhDs in Biblical Studies and Instructional Technology. Click here to request a free eBook Memoirs of the Ward Rumor Control Coordinator, a light-hearted look at our beloved Mormon culture. More at taylorhalverson.com.

Scott Haines is a lifelong student of the scriptures. He is trained as a neuro-ophthalmologist and practices at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. When called upon, he gladly provides consultations for the Missionary Health department. He is currently serving in the bishopric of his ward. He and his wife, Jen, have four well-behaved children.

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