“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” I Corinthians 2:9
At 19 weeks Baby Chris is developing his five senses: nerve cells for sense of taste, hearing, sight, and smell and touch. His sensory development is exploding and special areas for processing information about smell, taste, hearing, vision, and touch are being created in his brain. His arms and legs are now in proportion to each other and the rest of his body. Among other things, this realignment of his limbs will serve to augment his five senses with a spatial sense that will enable him to better understand where his body is in relation to other objects he will encounter after birth. This sensory matrix will help him take in information about the world throughout his life.
Our five senses are so important to us as human beings created in the image of God, that Scripture teaches us to filter and guard the kind of information they communicate to our brains. One of the first songs taught to young children in church is “O Be Careful Little Eyes”: “O be careful little eyes what you see…O be careful little ears what you hear…O be careful little hands what you do…O be careful little mouth what you say, there’s a Father up above and He’s looking down in love, so be careful…” Failure to guard what our senses take in warps our understanding of the created order in which we move, and which misunderstanding, in turn, distorts our knowledge of God and God’s will for our lives.
We are to be careful what we allow our eyes to see. “I can’t unsee that,” is a common remark after catching a glimpse of something disturbing. “Visual imprinting” (studied in birds) involves the neural mechanisms of recognition memory, when an image is selectively enhanced. Blindness, the inability to take in light, is a serious physical disability. Spiritual blindness is a metaphor for a life lived in spiritual darkness – an inability to take in spiritual light, a serious spiritual disability. “The eye is the lamp of the body…if the eye is healthy, the whole body will be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22)
Guarding our ears involves intentionally avoiding listening to gossip – Scripture is full of admonitions against gossip and warnings to guard our own words, and it’s tempting to point fingers at those who spread slander. But gossips can’t spread slander without an audience, and our ears should be tuned to take in truth and not lies. The Gospel is a word of truth intended to be heard: “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:19). At the end of a difficult saying or parable, Jesus often spoke of those who had “ears to hear” (e.g., Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23) – another way of saying, “Get rid of the distractions that interfere with your clear understanding and pay attention!”
Our sense of touch not only provides information about whether something is hard or soft, hot or cold, sharp or dull, but also allows for communication between two people often involves touch: a caress, a hug or a slap of rebuke. It turns out that pain is a blessing: It was a curse to lose one’s sense of touch because of the nerve damage resulting from leprosy. Throughout his time on earth, people reached out to touch Jesus in hope of being healed or receiving some of his power (Mark 3:10; Luke 6:19; 8:46). In turn, Jesus healed many with his touch (Matthew 8:15; 9:29; Mark 7:33; Luke 22:51). And perhaps the most famous touch of all was when the disciple Thomas confirmed his faith by touching Jesus’ wounds (John 20:24-27).
It’s said that when one sense is compromised, or eliminated, another sense becomes more acute to make up for the sensory deficit. Jacob tricked his father, blind Isaac, into believing he was his brother Esau, by deceiving Isaac’s sense of touch and smell by disguising himself (Genesis 27). Sometimes two senses operate together: we have no sense of taste without an accompanying sense of smell. In worship, the Bible tells how God receives prayer as a “fragrant offering,” (Rev. 5:8).
So during this week of fetal development, God integrates the physical world with the intellect by providing the portals for us to rightly understand the world and receive knowledge of God; the means to receive and confirm faith; the ability to connect meaningfully with other human beings; the ability to both injure and heal; and the system to receive warnings for self-protection. From this point on – for the rest of our lives – we will continually take in the knowledge of both good and evil, that dangerous knowledge that makes us the most like God (Genesis 3:22), and the most in need of Jesus.