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Born Blind

Jim Thompson - 3/1/2020

How do you think about God when there’s pain in your life? Is it harder to trust him? Is it harder to pray in faith? When you feel like God doesn’t answer the way you want, does it make you more mad or sad?

We know that the God of the Bible is uniquely and lovingly sovereign over all things. He’s more powerful than our categories of him. He has more understanding than the boxes of our circumstances that we put him in. And he’s strong enough to teach, grow us, and use our pain for his purposes – even if we can’t see how.

So, when it comes to the pains of life, we have to resist blaming God. Rather, we should ask things like, “God, how are you going to make something good come out of this?” And it’s not easy to ask this in faith. To realize that God might have plans for our pain that are bigger than our immediate comfort, that’s tough to believe. But Scripture invites us to ask questions like this, “God, what do you want to teach me in this pain? How do you want to use this for your glory?” Enter John 9.

Jesus and his disciples encounter a man blind from birth. I wonder how many times he had asked similar questions: “Why me, God? Are you listening, God?” But Jesus’ assessment of the man’s situation took his disciples by surprise. Jesus said, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (9:3). Jesus was saying that exploring the cause of the man’s pain isn’t as important as exploring the purpose of the man’s pain. Cause asks “why?” and looks backwards. Purpose asks “why?” and looks forwards. John Piper writes, 

“The reason causes are not the ultimate explanation for things is that God is not ultimately a responder but ultimately a planner. The implication of this for your life is profound. No matter what mess you’re in or what pain you’re in, the causes of that mess or that pain are not decisive in explaining it. What is decisive in explaining it is God’s purpose. Yes, there are causes. Some of them are your fault, perhaps, and some of them are not. But those causes are not decisive in determining the meaning of your mess or your pain. What is absolutely decisive is God’s purpose – that his works might be displayed. And if you hold fast to Jesus, God’s purpose for your mess and your pain will be a good purpose. It will be worth everything you must endure.”

And this is the essence of what Jesus wants his disciples and the blind man to believe and feel. So, Jesus heals the man. And from this man’s pain, came healing. And from this healing, God’s works were put on display in this man’s life. The Pharisees were shown more clearly that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. The blind man’s neighbors and family had to reckon with the fact that Jesus is the great healer of their friend, and the man himself grows in his understanding of who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing.

Further, as the chapter closes, John records plainly what maybe we’ve been thinking all along – that this blindness is not just physical. There’s a deeper kind of blindness at stake. It’s one thing to be blind, or have a disease, or an addiction, but it’s a completely different thing to have it, and not know it. That doubles down on the problem. And if you have it and don’t know it, that means it has you. That’s how the chapter ends, with the Pharisees blind to their own blindness. And that’s why physical problems are almost a gracious reminder – because we’re often aware of them. But I wonder how often we are blind to our pride, presumption, or greed? That’s a tragic place to be. To think that you’re doing life right, but in reality you’re causing hurt to yourself and others. And that’s exactly where these Pharisees were (9:41). But even this is God’s works being on display in the life of the ex-blind man.

John 9 also repeats what Jesus said in John 8, that he is the light of the world. And that means we’re supposed to think about this blindness in terms of light. So, blindness is like darkness, and sight is like light. But John 9 includes a little more nuance than that. 

Maybe you have a dimmer switch in your house, one that can fade the light from barely on all the way to full brightness. That’s what this man’s spiritual blindness is like in John 9. Notice the progression: When his neighbors first asked who healed him, he says, “A man named Jesus.” But later, the Pharisees interrogate him, and he says, “He’s a prophet.” And after that, the man ends up defending Jesus against the Pharisees! And finally, he bows before Jesus, calls him Lord, believes, and even worships him!

And in this story, John’s point is clear: Jesus attended to the physical blindness so that he could attend to the spiritual blindness. Meaning, spiritual blindness is more important! If we never experience the physical healing that we want, he’s still God. He doesn’t teach us in our pain only through results. He doesn’t use our suffering only when it’s gone. He doesn’t have designs for our hardships only when they pass. Rather, the physical blindness that we have is an invitation to not be blind to our true blindness, to see Jesus for who he is, to acknowledge that he is Lord, and to worship him. And for those who see Jesus with the spiritual eyes of faith, we will have resurrection bodies one day – no longer inclined to disease and disorder. And so, for the meantime, God wants to use our pain for his purposes. Sometimes that means physical healing, and sometimes it doesn’t. But either way, what he’s trying to teach us is clear: There is a blindness darker than physical blindness, and that He is the light of the world, inviting us into True Sight and Salvation. And when we believe him for these things, “the works of God are displayed” in our lives.

And this leads us to the ultimate work of God displayed among us - the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The cross is the greatest reminder that Jesus fully fathoms the pain that we go through. He felt it too. He can sympathize with us. He understands. And at the cross, the darkness thought it won. It had seemingly quenched the Light of the world. But don’t forget John 1, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can’t overcome it.” Jesus’ triumph over death means that ‘sin and death’ and ‘pain and disease’ don’t get the last word for his people.

So, “God, what are you doing in and through our pain?” He’s using it to jog our minds to the cross. He’s teaching us that he understands our suffering. He’s calling to mind that the greatest pain is unbelief. And he’s prompting us to share our story of faith so that others might hear, and follow Jesus. The God of the Bible is so sovereign that he can use our pain – past, present, and future – to somehow mysteriously put his works on display, especially his great work of salvation in Jesus.