As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Often when we read Scripture we tend, when moving from one chapter to the next, to forget what we have just previously read. For example, John 9 begins with these four words: “As he passed by.” If we fail to take into account what the Apostle John recorded in John 8, we would not know the who, what, where, why and when of John 9.
The subject in question is Jesus. He has exited the temple immediately after the Jewish religious leaders picked up stones to throw at Him (John 8:59). They did so because Jesus had called Himself Yahweh (John 8:58). The Jews did not accept Jesus’ claim to be God but considered it blaspheme. Therefore, they sought to stone Jesus as a blasphemer, as prescribed by the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 24:16; John 10:31; Matthew 26:65).
It was at this precise moment that Jesus saw a man blind from birth. We do not know how old this man was, only that Scripture says he was of legal age (John 9:21), or in other words, an adult. It was also at this precise moment that Jesus’ disciples asked Him a pertinent question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
A friend of mind experienced an unfortunate initial encounter with evangelical Christians many years ago. It seems that a couple of believers were making calls on people within their neighborhood for the purpose of witnessing for Christ and inviting people to their church. Not a bad thing to do. I have done it myself on many occasions.
However, did I mention that my friend uses orthopedic crutches? Upon seeing this, these believers promptly informed my friend that if she would repent of her un-confessed sin, she would no longer need her crutches. It seems that these believers were of the conviction that physical ailments, or some other misfortune, were God’s punishment for some specific sin. Suffice to say my friend was offended and hurt by such a presumption.
Such was also the case in first century Israel. Jesus’ disciples’ first inclination was that either the man, or his parents, had committed a sin resulting in the man’s blindness. For the disciples, it was a simple explanation of cause and effect.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “with a congenital affliction, the explanation could be that the sin had been committed in the womb, or by the parents whose sinful act victimized their child.”
Jesus, however, presented a third possibility for the man’s blindness. Jesus stated that neither the man nor his parents sinned but rather that the works of God might be displayed in him: that is in the blind man.
We must acknowledge that all suffering is a direct result of original sin, also known as the fall (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12-21). Suffering, including physical pain and disease, is a consequence of our corporate sin and rebellion in Adam. Yet, it is most unwise and insensitive to suggest that physical aches and pains are in direct proportion to a sinner’s sin and guilt.
James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
I Peter 1:6-7 says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Trials are never easy. They may be even downright difficult and painful. However, God has promised to provide sustaining grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). While the immediate purpose of our trials may not be fully known by us, the ultimate purpose is for each believer to glorify God.
What trials are you presently enduring? Is it one you have had since birth, or one more recent? Is it a physical trial or some other kind? Regardless, we have God’s assurance that His purpose is good (Romans 8:28).
Soli deo Gloria!