To be blind from birth would be so tough to handle. To never know what it is like to see, to not know colors, bright and dark, shapes, or any other visual gift would be such a darkness to live in. In John 9:1-12, we meet a man just like this. He has never seen. Ever. Blind from birth.
Jesus and his guys meet this guy along the way. We aren’t told where or when, just that they meet him on the way. The disciples want to know who sinned, the man or his parents? The question is one based on common understanding of sickness in their day. They believed it was caused by sin. This wasn’t a Jewish understanding, this was a global idea. The Romans believed it, the Egyptians had a similar understanding. This was a fairly “scientific” understanding of what occurred in nature. Someone displeases a god, they are punished. The disciples simply wanted to know who it was. Was it his parents before he was born, and they had brought this on him? Or did God know what his life would be like, and had him born blind in punishment ahead of time? They aren’t being cruel according to the world’s understanding. There is a good chance the blind man standing there had wondered the very same questions without being able to answer it.
Catch Jesus’ response. “Neither.” This completely challenges the basis of their understanding. Everything gets shaken with this answer. This is not in the equation. It’s supposed to be choose answer A or B. Jesus chooses answer 3. It’s not even listed on the test as an option. This isn’t about sin, He says. Science and the world are wrong. This is about something completely different. Jesus tells them that the blindness is there so that God can be seen in this man’s life. Yeah, Jesus says it was planned by God.
“Now wait a minute” you might be thinking, “we can’t blame stuff like that on God. He’s a loving God, and that isn’t very loving.” And you would be right, we can’t blame that on God. But what if it isn’t blame? What if it is something totally different? What if blindness, pain, and suffering isn’t something to be blamed at all?
Jesus tells us over and over not to worry about the body nearly as much as we worry about the soul. We read that, we hear it, and then we ignore our spiritual growth and start our next diet. We watch with rapt interest shows like “10 Years Younger”, “Nip and Tuck”, “Extreme Makeover”, and all of the others. We spend great resources to make sure we avoid all pain and aging. But Jesus says that maybe we are chasing smoke. Maybe it’s our soul God really cares about. Maybe God isn’t afraid of pain like we are. Maybe in God’s economy, pain isn’t something that needs to be “blamed” on anyone. Maybe His focus on our soul means the body is expendable if it furthers our spiritual growth.
Before anyone gets too upset at that last remark, let’s not forget that we daily practice lifestyles that treat our souls as expendable if it furthers our physical pursuits. We engage in addictive behaviors, destructive patterns, ignore the achings of our soul, put off times of rest and reflection all in the pursuit of pleasure. So we do the equal opposite of God.
Also note that Jesus doesn’t say “Neither, the man is blind because his retina is detached and it isn’t sending electronic impulses to his brain.” Too often, we break it down to what our current version of science says, and let it ride at that. It’s a weak answer. Jesus’ answer is still true today. Why do we have pain? Sometimes it’s a result of our own decisions (I grabbed the curling iron, I drank too much beer, I picked a fight and got a broken rib), sometimes it someone else’s decision (I was shot in a robbery, I have suffered from secondhand smoke), but sometimes it is so that God can be seen in our lives.
Are we willing to accept answer #3? Are we willing to be so emptied out for God that our bodies and pain are His to use as He wishes? We had better. If we claim to follow the one called Jesus, His path leads through a garden of tears to a cross of torture. He laid down His body in a sea of pain so God would be seen. He calls us to follow closely behind.