“Who sinned, this man or his parents?” the disciples asked Jesus when they saw a man who had been blind his entire life (John 9:1). They wanted to know why God allowed this terrible affliction.
This is the same thought Job’s friends had when they saw Job suffering through the loss of his children, his prosperity, and his health. “Job what did you do?” How have you sinned?” You must have angered God in some way,” they echoed.
As a counselor and coach, I find people ask God the why question when they face the big difficulties of life like blindness, a rebellious child or the death of a marriage. But they also ask God why with the minor irritants of daily life like when they burn dinner just before company arrives or they can’t find their car keys or cell phone when they have an important appointment to keep. We want to know why God? Why this? Why now?
We all want to understand why bad, inconvenient, or troublesome things happen to people don’t’ we? If we could know why, then maybe we can change or do something to prevent those bad things from happening to us.
Jesus answered his disciples’ question by telling them it’s not about who sinned. We’re all sinners. Rather, he told his disciples that in this situation, the man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
At first glance, Jesus’ answer sounds unfair, harsh. Why was this man singled out for affliction so God could display his power? No one would willingly sign up for that. You’re right, and it’s good God doesn’t ask our permission because most of us would say “No thanks.”
One of the most influential women in my life has been Joni Eareckson Tada, who was paralyzed in a diving accident when she was only 17 years old. I have followed her story, read her books and listened to her speak since I was in college over 30 years ago.
God uses Joni’s life to show me, as well as thousands of others, the reality of Christ’s mercy, love, and grace. It’s not too hard to praise God when everything in your life is going well. It’s another story to continue to praise God and give him thanks when your life falls apart. That gets people’s attention, and they sit up and take notice. What is the secret to this person’s joy and peace? It’s not natural. That’s right. It’s God.
There are only certain individuals whom God trusts with such deep suffering. Joni is one of them. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was another. Spurgeon, a renowned preacher, prolific author and beloved pastor during the 1800s, battled depression throughout his life. He was refreshingly honest with his struggle and never pretended he didn’t feel what he felt. Yet he always found hope in looking for God’s purposes in it. He wrote,
“Any fool can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous harvest…It is not natural to sing in trouble…Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man.”
Perhaps you are one like Joni or Spurgeon, whom God trusts with his severe mercy. If so, our world desperately needs to see Jesus in you.
For the rest of us, how might God want his works to be displayed in us in the midst of our inconvenience or daily disappointments? When we’re aggravated waiting in a long line with a clerk who isn’t moving fast enough for us, how might we move beyond thinking only about how we feel or what we’re not able to do and, in that moment, express the fruit of the spirit like love, or patience or self-control?
Do you think that God might also arrange or allow the minor afflictions of life so that the works of God might be displayed in us to a world so desperate to see him?