Part 38 – John 9:32
The first few verses of this chapter are very interesting as they are one of the two places where Jesus comments on the relationship between sin and suffering, or rather the lack of relationship between them. The disciples of Jesus thought, like most other people in those days, that if someone was suffering as this man was this had to be the effect of sin. Since he had been blind from birth it could not be his sin so whose was it? His parents seemed to be the obvious answer.
No, said Jesus. It doesn’t work like that. In what he went on to say I don’t think he meant that the man was blind just so that the works of God could be displayed in him. Rather he was saying that since he is blind it is possible for those works to be displayed in him.
The other place where Jesus says something which has much the same implication is Luke chapter 13: 1 – 5 where he says that neither the Galileans who had their blood mixed with their sacrifices nor the people of Jerusalem on whom a wall fell suffered because they had sinned.
In all these cases people were assuming that they were being punished for something they had done. In other words that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Or, to put it another way, that cause and effect operate in the moral and social sphere much the same way as they do in the physical. Their misunderstanding is excusable because a great deal of the Old Testament is written on that assumption. But not all of it! Israel, as a nation had to go into exile in Assyria because of the wickedness of the people.
But Job did not suffer because he was a sinner. In fact most of the book of Job is taken up with an argument between Job and his friends. They say look at all these bad things that have happened to you – you must be bad. Job is occupied with saying ‘no, I am not’. We know, but they didn’t, that what had happened to Job was not a punishment, if anything it was a test. In the end the word from the Lord to Job is roughly speaking ‘I know what I am doing, you don’t. How dare you argue with me?’ Cause and effect do not operate in the moral world.
Not much has changed since. The disciples of Jesus thought the same way. So they asked the question, ‘we can see the effect, so who was the cause of this man’s blindness.’ ‘No’, said Jesus, ‘it does not work like that.’
Not much has changed since then. Every time someone confronted with someone’s suffering says ‘ they didn’t deserve that!’ or ‘why has God allowed that to happen to them (or me)?’ or something like that they are implicitly assuming that good things happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people. And what Jesus said and what the whole book of Job is saying is ‘no, it doesn’t work like that!’
Unfortunately the prevalence of that line of thinking, often perpetrated by well meaning folk trying to encourage other people, causes untold damage to the faith of those who believe them and swallow their teaching. We were at a school for the children of missionaries where many of the staff encouraged the children to think their parents were safe on the roads because the Lord would look after them since they were good people. Those staff had a real problem when the mother of some children in the school was killed by a falling stone as they walked one of the nearby paths.
We have to accept, as the book of Job teaches, that the world that the Lord created is a basically chaotic place, or more accurately, as we look at it it is a basically chaotic place. The Lord knows it is not a chaotic place because he controls it, but we do not have any knowledge of what his plans are so, for us, it is a chaotic place. That is a great mystery, but it is far better to recognize that so that, when we get caught on the wrong side of some chaos, we do not despair and lose our faith.
Why the world should be a chaotic world we do not know. The only comment I can offer is, that if we stop and think about it, a completely ordered, controlled world would be a very boring place to live. No sooner do people in the most favored countries and societies find themselves living in a pleasant ordered world than they start going off looking for excitement, a hint of danger, and even some risk on holiday! I suppose some people like a completely ordered boring existence, but certainly not everyone does.
Of course, it is tough if we are on the wrong side of the difficult things of this world but that is the price we must pay for an interesting, sometimes dangerous, sometimes painful world. Jesus makes it very clear that this is our world. We must learn to enjoy it – even when what happens isn’t exactly to our liking. It is quite clear from the rest of this wonderful story of the blind man that he had not lost his strength of character, his wisdom, his spiritual sense just because he was blind.
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