Have you ever asked the question of why something happened? Maybe it was an event or circumstance in your own life or the life of a loved one. Perhaps someone you passed by during the course of a day struck your attention due to their appearance or predicament.
I find “why” to be a common question in many of our lives. The story of John 9 is a story of the question “why?”. It is particularly a story of why a person is facing a lifelong hardship.
As we will find, unlike the disciples and the religious elites, Jesus isn’t looking back for a cause to answer the “why?” question. He’s looking at the present; he’s looking at the eternal purpose. In chapter 9, we find the Gospel speaks into longsuffering through a purpose very present to the now of life.
Blindness was not rare during Jesus’ day. Actually, it was a relatively common ailment in the Middle East. That did not stop it from being a major burden to bear within society though.
The powerful elites in the Jewish community knew the Mosaic law well. They isolated a passage like Leviticus 21:16-21 which prohibited a person with a blemish (including blindness) from offering up the Bread of God from passages like Leviticus 19:14 where there are commandments for protection and compassion regarding the blind.
They preached that since God used blindness against His enemies at times throughout history (Gen. 19:1-11), being blind was a sign that you were an enemy (in sin) of God. Through this conclusion, personal sin and blindness were considered to be linked together.
The Dead Sea Scrolls provided scholars with devotional writings indicating that there were prohibitions from blind men even entering Jerusalem. These religious and societal hurdles, judgements, and pressures on top of the literal physical limitations of being blind most often led to a life of poverty and rejection.
This backdrop is where the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John begins.
The chapter opens with the disciples asking about the cause of a man’s blindness, right? Asking the “why” question? Wrong. The chapter starts with Jesus being keenly aware of the people around him. Jesus sees those that the rest of society tries to push aside and hide. “As he (Jesus) passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.”
Isn’t it a blessing knowing that Christ is very much aware of individual people? He’s not too busy. He’s not too preoccupied. He doesn’t seek to isolate himself from the broken. Instead, time and again Jesus is first to see the person desperately in need of His healing.
Jesus also isn’t interested in the same questions that Jewish society was into. They all wanted to know the cause of the aliment. Who sinned? Jesus was into the purpose of it. And really when you think about it, what hope is there in the cause?
If we look to scripture, where suffering is placed upon people by God due to sin there is someone within that people group who always knows what the suffering is regarding. Cain understood what caused his consequence of having to leave his home. Jonah knew why the storm was raging. Moses understood why his generation would not be entering the promised land. Samson was aware why his strength disappeared. Pharaoh knew what the plagues were all about. David understood the symbolism in the fates and actions of his children. Where personal sin and suffering intersect, a knowledge of the connection exists to those involved.
However, there are a lot of places in scripture where there are no connections to suffering and personal sin. Job is the most obvious example. This blind man in John 9 is another. Joseph being sold into slavery and falsely imprisoned by Potiphar’s wife is yet another.
So a word to the Church… where someone is facing consequences for sin in this earthly life, be assured it has been made known to those involved. You don’t have to gossip about it or question it. That’s not your place. And where suffering is taking place and no conviction of sin exists, quit looking for a specific cause. Living in a fallen world in need of healing from original sin is as much understanding as is necessary. Jesus has something so much greater for us to question… what’s the purpose, here and now, of the suffering?
You see, if we could fix ourselves. If we could be righteous enough. Strong enough. Faithful enough. Good enough. Then looking to the cause might have value. But Jesus already knows in John 9 that we are not righteous, strong, faithful, or good enough to win our own salvation. Sin is a higher power than you and I. Apart from Christ it always wins against man. So instead, if we focus on the purpose as Jesus did in this chapter, we can and do find hope in the trials and sufferings of life.
And what is the purpose of the suffering? Verse 3b: “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Do we believe that powerful truth in our own lives, Church? That when we face adversity undeservedly, we are being positioned to be used in the displaying of God’s workmanship? And to the extent that we do believe it, do we value God to such a degree in our lives that we willingly and joyfully bear the suffering in great anticipation of how God will use it for His Glory?
2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” In an age of prosperity gospel, too many of us think that the strength of our obedience to God and earthly blessing rise and fall together. However, if we could see as Christ sees I would propose that scripture paints a very different picture of the Christian walk.
It is true this blind man was healed in John 9 after years of poverty and ridicule. But please also see that he was cast out of the temple for his testimony of the works of God displayed in being healed. He was faithful to his testimony of how Jesus brought him healing and thus, the religious elites “reviled” him more now than before.
So Christian, the takeaway is this: “…In the world you will have tribulation…” (John 16:33), often times tribulation in no way linked to personal sin. Be compassionate with others who are in suffering and tribulation. Do not assume the cause but have an expectation that the purpose is being revealed in the here and now. Look to the purpose. Be blessed by it. Know that the revelation of the purpose will likely face its own rejection by the world. “But take heart; I (Jesus) have overcome the world.”