John 9:1-7 HCSB As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. (2) His disciples questioned Him: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (3) "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," Jesus answered. "This came about so that God's works might be displayed in him. (4) We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. (5) As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (6) After He said these things He spit on the ground, made some mud from the saliva, and spread the mud on his eyes. (7) "Go," He told him, "wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means, "Sent"). So he left, washed, and came back seeing.
Jesus is trying to illustrate a new paradigm here. He is trying to break the tight linkage between personal piety and personal prosperity. The old Jewish ethical paradigm went a bit like this: “Good people have good lives, bad people have bad lives, therefore if you have a bad life, you must be a bad person. If you were born blind and suffered as a beggar all your life then some terrible sin must have been perpetrated by you or by your parents.”
Jesus says: “No-one sinned” There is no connection. There is no explanation, but there will be a good outcome – the glory of God.
There is no ready explanation for most of life’s sufferings - such as Job’s suffering or this man being born blind. I became an epileptic at the age of three and it profoundly affected my life up until the age of 40 when I was healed. Why did the Lord “allow this” – was it because of my sins or my parents sins or to teach me some lesson? I don’t know and I may never know this side of glory.
We expect our sufferings to have an explanation and we expect that the explanation will (a) seem fair and reasonable to us (b) be evident to us. But the Scriptures do not promise us reasons; instead they promise us outcomes – which is even better. God does not promise that we will understand our suffering, but God does promise that it will work a “surpassing weight of glory” for us:
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 HCSB (16) Therefore we do not give up; even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. (17) For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
1 Peter 1:6-9 HCSB You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials (7) so that the genuineness of your faith--more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire--may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (8) You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 5:8-10 HCSB Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. (9) Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your brothers in the world. (10) Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little.
Romans 8:17-18 HCSB and if children, also heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ--seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. (18) For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.
All of these verses above promise certain outcomes – but do not give personal explanations for individual suffering. Our suffering is simply part and parcel of life as Christians in a fallen world - which is largely under the power of an evil being called the Devil (1 John 5:18,19).
At a deeper level Jesus is saying that undeserved suffering is common. The blind man did not deserve his condition – it was not his sin, or the sin of his parents. There was no moral reason for it. No matter how foolish people may be they do not deserve to be raped, kidnapped or murdered. And no child deserves to be hit by a car, even if he was determined to play on the road! A lot of human suffering is way out of proportion to the mistake that caused it. Someone dives into a swimming pool at the wrong angle, and hits their head on the bottom and drowns. A tiny mistake with a terrible consequence – and such things are common (especially with medical errors). And of course our suffering can be caused entirely by the careless, irrational or evil acts of others.
Since the vast bulk of human suffering is undeserved in part or in whole we have to find a new theology of suffering unconnected to our personal merit. Personal merit does not get us into Heaven nor does it save us from pain in this life – just look at the life of Paul or the crucifixion of Christ! Grace through faith gets us into Heaven and grace through faith gives meaning and resonance to our sufferings and yes, reward for our sufferings – as we saw in the passages above.
"This came about so that God's works might be displayed in him.” Why was I an epileptic? Perhaps so the works of God could be displayed in me! Perhaps so the angels could glory in what God did in making a servant of God out of such a person - and finally the glory of the healing and restoring. God has done a mighty and glorious work in Joni Eareckson-Tada and Helen Keller and many others.
Jesus then says that good works can help alleviate suffering: “We must do the works of Him who sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” Jesus addressed suffering, He healed it, removed it exorcised it and brought it to an end.
1 John 3:8 HCSB The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil's works.
The ‘we must do” invites us to join Jesus in His work of ending suffering. In fact those who make no effort to alleviate suffering are sentenced to endure it forever:
Matthew 25:41-46 HCSB Then He will also say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! (42) For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; (43) I was a stranger and you didn't take Me in; I was naked and you didn't clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn't take care of Me.' (44) "Then they too will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?' (45) "Then He will answer them, 'I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.' (46) "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." – Jesus is the healing light of the world.
The unusual method of healing follows: “After He said these things He spit on the ground, made some mud from the saliva, and spread the mud on his eyes. "Go," He told him, "wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means "Sent"). So he left, washed, and came back seeing.” Go and be a sent-one and you will see! How often we go out on Christ’s wok with “mud on our eyes’ and come back seeing life far more clearly! The first thing the man would have seen as he washed the mud off his eyes - was his own reflection in the pool of water! When we do God’s work we come to an accurate and true sense of our own identity.