Giving Sight to the Blind
Back in the 1980’s when my wife and I were pursuing our Master’s degrees in music at Arizona State University, before we understood Reformed/Covenant Theology, we experienced first-hand a situation similar to what is given to us in the Gospel of John, chapter 9. Seeing a blind man, the disciples ask:
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"[i]
Away from home, newly married, living on less than a shoe-string, we discovered we were expecting our first child. The pregnancy was complicated and at one point we were told that we were losing our child. After an ultra sound (that we couldn’t afford) confirmed our son was still living, I asked for prayer for our situation at church, only to be told:
“If you were a better covering for your wife, none of this would be happening!”
John Calvin noted that we are “sharp critics of others”[iii] If things are going badly for them, we assume it is the judgment of God. However…if things go badly for us, we overlook our sins.
There is a sense where it is proper to understand all suffering as the result of sin. Due to Adam and Eve’s sin, the world was cursed.[iv] Death came into the world.[v] Creation groans under the pain and weight of the perversion and damage incurred due to the curse.[vi] However, to make a one-to-one correlation between an individual’s suffering and some unknown (but assumed) sin in the life of the sufferer or one related to him, is breath-takingly presumptive. In fact, it is contrary to scripture:
The soul who sins shall die.
The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father,
nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son.
The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself,
and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.[vii]
Therefore, I would suggest that it is arrogant and destructive at worst, uncharitable at best, for us to seek to definitively interpret the suffering of others. Jesus points us to a completely different paradigm. Causality is not the issue! Jesus answers in terms of purpose:
"It was not that this man sinned, or his parents,
but that the works of God might be displayed in him.[viii]
But that… With the result that… in order that… HERE is the purpose. The man is the vessel, the instrument, the issue is the display of God’s glory. Our confession is consistent with our LORD Jesus! The Catechism asks:
What is the chief end of man?
Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for-ever.[ix]
“End” has to do with purpose. We might re-phrase the question: “What is the chief (main) purpose of man?” The man was born blind for this purpose: that God’s works would be displayed in and through the man’s life. In John 9, the power, authority, mercy, and love of God are on display as Jesus heals the man. God is glorified! This, however, is not the required action on the part of God. Jesus, conceivably, could have not healed the man. In this case, the man’s blindness could have served the purposes of God (and glorified God) by a testimony of faith and trust in God.[x] In many cases, physical brokenness remains. A self-centered, or man-centered, approach to pain seeks what is perceived to be the summa bona[xi]: freedom pain. A God-centered approach realizes that God’s highest goal is change His people into the image of Christ.[xii] There is no greater benefit, no higher goal![xiii]
With our minds “renewed” by this knowledge[xiv], we can begin to apply, (dare I say “obey”?) the word of God and “count it all joy” when we meet trials of various kinds, because we know God’s purpose is for our greatest good![xv]
In light of this, as you seek to come along-side those who are suffering, rather than ask: “what did you do wrong?” You must ask:
Why is God allowing this?
How is He using this to change you to be like Christ?
Martin B. Blocki has served since 2003 as the Associate Pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Hills in Pittsburgh, PA since 2002. Rev. Blocki graduated from Indiana University, Bloomington (BME), Arizona State University (MM), and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary (MDiv). Martin and his wife, Kathy, have two married sons, one daughter, and four grandchildren.
[i] John 9:2
[ii] Yes – this is some of the bitter fruit of the “faith healing movement” and other teachings of the Charismatic Church.
[iii] Calvin’s Commentary on the Gospel of John
[iv] Genesis 3
[v] Romans 5:12
[vi] Romans 8:22
[vii] Ezekiel 18:20
[viii] John 9:3
[ix] Westminster Shorter Catechism #1
[x] Other means of glorifying God as a result of the blindness are also possible.
[xi] “highest good”
[xii] This is what means “To glorify God”. If you “look” like Christ, you will show the world what he looks like! Check out 2 Corinthians 3:8.
[xiii] The reader MUST ask herself/himself: Do I truly believe this? Do I want this?
[xiv] Romans 12:1-2
[xv] James 1:2-4 reads: 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Romans 828 reads: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.