Summary: The miracle of a blind man receiving his sight addresses the Problem of Affliction and Healing and that criticism by the Pharisees brought out both negative and positive reaction.
There’s a saying that ‘There’s none as blind as those who won’t see!’ As Helen Keller said: ‘What would be worse than being born blind? To have sight without vision.’ It’s certainly true in the encounter that Jesus had with the Pharisees on the occasion when He healed a man who had been born blind (John 9). The scene is in Jerusalem. Jesus had just left the temple after a confrontation with the Pharisees over what they thought was an outrageous claim by Jesus. He had said, ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!’ (8:58). They were so infuriated at what would have been gross heresy had it not been true, that they ‘picked up stones to stone him’. Our Lord was aware that His time had not yet come for His Passion, so He ‘hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.’ From then on, the Pharisees would watch Jesus like a hawk to see if somehow they could find some pretext to bring an official charge.
As Jesus walked away we’re told, ‘He saw a man blind from birth.’ This unfortunate person was what we would call in our day, congenitally blind, and what’s more, he was reduced to begging. Like ourselves, the disciples were always anxious to ask questions to which there are no final answers on this side of eternity. They posed the query to Jesus, ‘… who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’ and so we examine:
THE PROBLEM OF AFFLICTION
This has been the topic of speculation down the ages. Job wrestled with this ancient problem; the psalmists and prophets agonizing over it. The 21st century Christian leaders are no different over these perplexing issues: Dr Rowan Williams likes to tell the story of Pope John XXIII, who woke up worrying about a problem. He said to himself: “I’ll consult the Pope about that.” Then he thought: “Wait a minute, I am the Pope!” So it’s no wonder the mystery of illness is a theological puzzle. ‘Who is responsible?’ asked the disciples, ‘the man himself or his parents?’ The Jewish rabbis had the idea that if a pregnant woman sinned, there may be some deformity in the child. It’s true that there’s often a relationship between cause and effect. On the day I wrote this there was an item on the news that medical research pointed to the disastrous effect that alcohol during pregnancy had on the unborn when the children grew up.
C S Lewis wrote that God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. Sickness can be God’s megaphone to draw our attention back to Him. But while the Bible allows a general relationship between suffering and sin, due to the fall of man depicted in the Garden of Eden, it refuses to permit the principle to be set in stone for each individual. Yes, sin has produced a suffering world, but a given person’s suffering isn’t necessarily attributable to his or her personal sin. Jesus dismissed this simplistic theory of suffering as He answered the disciples’ question. ‘No’ he said, ‘it wasn’t the sin of this man or his parents, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’
Jesus isn’t interested in the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the past but rather how a person’s predicament can be resolved in the present. All things – even afflictions and calamities – can work to the glory of God. He can turn suffering into good. Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t here to explain the mystery of evil, but to remove the cause of it and break its power. When Jesus made His first public address, He quoted from Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would ‘proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind and to release the oppressed’ (Luke 4:18). This tells us that:
HEALING IS A GIFT FROM GOD
The Almighty is sovereign and has a purpose in all He does. Jesus knew that giving sight to the blind beggar would be one of the signs by which He would validate His claim as the Son of God. ‘I am the light of the world’ he said and He would prove it by changing the darkness of this man to light, symbolic of His greater work of releasing mankind from the power of sins’ darkness through His atoning work on the Cross.
We might be tempted to think it would be so much simpler if the gift of healing could be received on request, like reaching out for a bottle of medicine. But that isn’t so. It isn’t God’s way. A balanced view of Scripture indicates that God plans for us. He has the best in mind for us and, in His permissive will, may allow health and strength, or weakness and suffering, long life or short life. It’s not for us to question His decision. Ultimately, we are at the mercy of God.