Have you had difficulty finding some of your favourite shopping items which seem to constantly be out of stock? I know that things like eggs and lettuce have been in short supply along with a regular list of usual items including prescription medication. And when you can get them they are sometimes double or more the usual price. Sometimes we can trace back the shortages to events. Weather events – droughts, floods, bushfires. Many blaming the war in Ukraine. Last week a huge refrigerated transport company went into liquidation that supplies many supermarkets and will impact the supply chain even further.
But what about when we can’t trace back a reason? Like in our Gospel reading where the inquisitive minds of the disciples are active: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? It’s an interesting proposition asking if the blind man sinned considering that they state he was “born blind”. But the confusion doesn’t end there. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg – wasn’t he blind?”
Some were saying, “Yes, it’s him.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone that looks like him.” In the meantime, he kept saying, “I am the man.” And then the confusion continues. The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight. Who has ever been born blind and received their sight back? So, they called his parents: “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he’s old enough to answer. He will speak for himself.” All of this because of that very first question by the disciples: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind – which led to Jesus healing him.
The problem with this questioning however is that regardless of the answer it will still leave a further question that will need to be answered. How can an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God allow totally undeserved suffering to exist in the world that we believe God both created and loves? Remember, he was BORN blind. The question is not a new question and it’s not a question that has been answered. In fact Israel were taunted with this question by their oppressors: Psalm 42 – As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”;
There is a hunger for some explanation in the face of tragedy, pain, and suffering—especially tragedy, pain, and suffering that apparently make no sense, that we can neither understand nor justify. I won’t raise any examples for fear of creating pains you may have but you can most likely reflect on some tragedy that is just so hard to explain. Like us, the disciples wanted to understand this tragedy – and with it, other tragedies. If the man had become blind because of his own carelessness, or if someone else had blinded him on purpose, then it would still be a tragedy, but it would make more sense; But that’s not what happened. He was born blind – what did he do to deserve that? Some people believe in what’s know as Karma – a system of justice that if you do bad things then bad things will happen to you. To make this work they believe in reincarnation to explain the unexplainable, such as when a child suffers – that the child must have done something bad in a previous life. How is that justice?
Jesus rejects any suggestion that his blindness is a result of anyone’s sin – his own or his parents. Jesus rejects the explanation that bad things happen because people are bad, or because the devil makes them happen, or because people don’t have enough faith, or because they don’t pray correctly, or whatever human explanation evolves. The sad reality is that we live in a world that really isn’t fair. We live in a world where tragedy happens for no apparent reason to people who absolutely do not deserve it. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t give an answer. After all, what answer would satisfy their understanding as it still leaves questions of why God allowed it if he loves us. Instead Jesus says “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him”.
But let’s be clear what this is not saying. This is not saying that God allowed this to happen so he could do something through him. Rather, Jesus is saying that his blindness won’t stop God from using him to bring about his glory. Suffering does not diminish or change the fact that we are created in the Image of God. Any suffering is the result of our fallen world.
When Adam and Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it opened their eyes and all future eyes to “know” evil which includes our generation and all future generations. Prior to that event the book of Genesis says that everything God had created was “good” and the final product “very good”. God had withheld evil but disobedience opened the eyes to know good AND evil. But God does not allow evil entering into the world to prevent his work being done. And we see that in the account of Joseph whose brothers committed and act of evil to him. Firstly wanting to kill him but then selling him as a slaved to Egypt. But through that act of evil God used Joseph to prevent starvation in the world during a 7 year famine. So when Joseph has an opportunity for revenge against his brothers he doesn’t take it saying: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? You intended evil against me, but God used it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
We will never be able to explain suffering and evil to the point where people are comforted by it. Instead, the place to find God is in bringing forth something new—not something that fixes the suffering, but something that redeems and transforms it. The God who is found there – the God who is active there – is the God who has wounds on his hands and feet and side as a reminder of his own suffering through which God has brought about our salvation. It’s the God who knows, who cares, who remembers what suffering is like—the God who shares our suffering and pain and shows compassion and love. God can be found in very real transforming ways in the very heart of undeserved and unexplained pain. Terrible things don’t happen so that God can show compassion or use that person to help others.But God isn’t hindered in achieving his will by the evil that exists in the world. Even in his own son’s brutal and merciless death God brought about new life for us as we see on that resurrection day when Jesus shows the scars rather than a healed body. Suffering will never make sense no matter what answer we are able to give. Instead, what makes sense is the presence of God in compassion and love; A presence of God through us.
This isn’t the explanation the disciples asked for as it didn’t answer “who sinned”. But Jesus assures us that we are never alone, never forsaken. God is indeed with us as one who has suffered as we do but did not sin to give us hope of new and renewed life at the resurrection.