“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, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns in ESV referring to God the Father, Son, and Spirit)
I know I am not alone in hearing, thinking, and even verbalizing phrases such as, “What did I (or someone else we know) do to deserve this?” Or, possibly feeling that nothing warrenting a particular response occurring, we’ve said “That’s not fair.” There is this tendency to think that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad ones. “You get what you deserve.” But this presupposition is regularly challenged when “bad” people get away with stuff and “good” people suffer. The reality of life is that there is no clear line which can be drawn pointing to any of these things being universally true. There is something in this kind of preferential logic that breaks down in reality.
Maybe the answer is found in a breakdown in control as suggested by Rabbi Harold Kushner in his bestselling book, “When bad Things Happen to Good People.” Assuming that people are good, some try to resolve the issue of negative circumstances occurring in people’s lives by saying that there are things outside of God’s control. Either God is disinterested, unable, or unwilling to step in and make a difference or alter the outcomes. Bad things happen to good people because God can’t or won’t stop it (for whatever reason). This is a common belief, but it is also one that is wrong in a number of key areas.
It is wrong in that it infers that God is limited. The Bible clearly shouts about our boundless God who is fully able to do all that He intends and will bring all of these things to completion. He is without limit in His strength, knowledge, wisdom, love, presence, and so much more. He is infinite in all that He is. This means that He is without limit and without beginning and end. He can never become exhausted, distracted, or depleted. He always has been and always will be fully and infinitely God. This is true of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
God is not disinterested. The Bible declares His love for man from beginning to end. He created man, and when man rebelled He did not abandon Him. He sent His Only Son to become man and suffer for man’s sake so that man’s sins might be forgiven and his relationship restored with God. No, God is not disinterested. He is intensely interested. Passages such as Psalm 139 speak of how He encloses us before and behind, how He knows our every thought and every word on our tongue before they are ever formed. He knows all of the days of our lives in their most intimate detail before there was ever one day of lives. God is very much interested and involved.
The issue of bad things happening to people is not a failure or weakness of God. But rather, it is a result of man’s rebellion. Man was created without sin, in a full and eternal relationship with God, and was placed in a creation that was very good. Man was given one thing not to do, and he did that thing. He ate from the tree and sinned. As a result of that sin he became spiritually darkened and separated from God. He was put out of the garden. His work became arduous with weeds and pain becoming a part of the new normal course of life. The world was subsequently changed because of man’s great sin. All of creation was affected by man’s sin. No longer was man “good,” but man was judged guilty of sin and deserving of separation. But God did not leave man this way. He continued to make Himself known to man leading to this right time when He even provided His promised Redeemer.
The reality is that we live in a world affected by the sin of man and these effects happen regardless of whether people know God or not. When a person trusts Jesus for salvation God does not immediately remove him or her from all of this, but He keeps us here and He sustains us as He does His work in and through us including even leading others to Himself.
So, back to the disciples’ question, “Who sinned?” Jesus said that the man’s blindness was not as a result of specific sin. He responded to them saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus did not deny any sin at all in the man’s or his parents’ lives, but He said that his blindness was not a result of specific sin. Rather, Jesus pointed to a greater cause which was that through what Jesus was about to do that the works of God might be clearly shown in him. Specifically for this man, we will go on to read that Jesus gave him physical sight for the first time in his life. As a result many would again marvel at His works. But as we also will continue to read, there were those who continued in antagonistic disbelief.
There are many things in our lives that we simply don’t know why they happen or don’t happen. Some things just don’t make a lot of sense from our side of things. But our side of things is very limited. We don’t have eternity and full knowledge as our framework. What many people have is what they see and what they have seen from experience, and if this is all they have then there really is no great reason for hope. But for those of us who know God and who have placed our trust in Him, being saved by faith in His Son, we have the confidence of knowing that God is good and He is firmly in control. We don’t have to have all of the answers, what we have is proven faith. We have a faith that is not empty well-wishing, but firmly placed in our unlimited and faithful God.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44–45, ESV) In the last blog I quoted John 16:33 which Jesus spoke to His disciples on the night He was betrayed. I’m going to back up a verse and re-quote the verse adding verse 32 reflecting the soon response of the disciples upon His arrest and pending crucifixion. “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with Me. I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33, ESV) We live in a world where evil is prevalent and man apart from God is a slave to sin. Even as believers who have been set free from this slavery we still struggle in various ways, we experience the good and the bad, the rain and the drought. We are subject to the same economies, diseases, and things that non-believers are, and we live among all of these other people who affect us in many, many ways. There is no immunity from this. The answer is not found in avoiding them, but in leaning on our faithful God to bring us through them.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, NASB95)
Looking at the whole picture we might ask, “Who did something wrong, the Christ or the Father, that He should be hung on a cross?” The answer is neither. Jesus went to the cross so that the works of the Father might be displayed in Him. As we live, trusting Him, He continues to prove Himself in us.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” … “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:35, 37, ESV)