We are meaning-makers. We want to know, love to know, try to know – why? We look for cause and effect, we are inquisitive. Now this is mostly good, but it can get us into trouble too! As we all too often from our limited finite human perspective reach the wrong conclusions!
The man in John 9 was born blind. The meaning-makers wanted to know why? Who’s fault was this? Was he blind because God was punishing him or punishing his parents in some way? Sound familiar?
As a pastor, I often encounter people who have had something hard happen to them and often the big questions are something like; ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why has God done this to me or allowed this to happen?’
Jesus answered their question with an emphatic “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3) This will not always be the reason for sickness or suffering, but it was the reason given by Jesus in this instance. ‘This man is blind SO THAT I can show God’s power over sickness and suffering’ – Jesus essentially said.
Jesus’ answer wasn’t one of the potential causes they had thought of. And maybe there is a hint there for us: we often will not know. And so the trite little answers like those of the people surrounding this blind man, are often just unhelpful as they don’t help us to know the ‘why’. It’s tough for ‘meaning-makers’ but it is true, we will not always know or be able to answer the ‘why’ questions fully. However there is a grid that might be helpful:
The 3 possible sources of pain/hurt/suffering:
In my experience and from Scripture, I believe that one can understand there being three potential sources for pain/hurt/suffering:
1. Our own sinful actions
One of the sources of pain and hardship in our lives is in fact ourselves, our own actions. We do at times bring pain upon ourselves! We make bad mistakes, we have character flaws, we make bad/ungodly/unwise decisions and do sometimes suffer the natural consequences thereof.
So many of the pastoral issues we end up dealing with as a church leadership are the result of ungodly decision-making and the mess that inevitably follows. But, think about this for a moment. This is the one source of pain and suffering/hardship over which we have some control. There is not a lot you can control in your life, but you can seek to grow in godly wisdom and it will have a direct positive impact on your life.
2. The Age we live in
Much of what is hard in our lives can simply be put down to this BIG category in which a number of sub-categories or sources of pain fit. This age we live in post-Fall & pre-Jesus’ Second Coming:
- Is an age in which we have a very real enemy who can bring suffering (Job is an example)
- Is an age in which the systems of this world are impacted by sin and so cause inequality, poverty, oppression, injustice
- Is an age in which the natural world itself is impacted by sin and so there are things like erosion, pollution, natural disasters…
- Is an age in which our bodies are decaying (death, sickness is part of the curse), and so in this age we are struck down by sickness & disease battling scourges like cancer and HIV…
- Is an age in which the sinful actions of others impact us; hijacking, robbery, relational hurt, rape, abuse…
3. God’s loving Fathering of us
Hebrews 12:5-11 teaches that part of the plan of our loving Heavenly Father is to produce holiness & Christlike character in us and to use us to fulfill His good purposes on the earth and to ultimately bless us in eternity. Sometimes, God is at work in the trial or the pain in order to accomplish something in us or through us. The John 9 man is an example of this potential source of trials, as Jesus Himself declared that to be the reason for his suffering up to that point.
Knowing the potential source of the pain, should inform our best response to that pain. If it’s self-imposed then stop it, repent and change. If it’s the age we live in, you might need to pray more for God’s guidance as to how best to respond. If it’s potentially your loving Father at work in some way, you need to ask Him to help you know how best to respond or what to do or pray.
The John 9 man gets healed miraculously and his previous disability becomes his powerful testimony to the rulers opposing Jesus!