Suffering on this earth comes with the territory of being human. Injury, sickness, and disease show no favoritism in life as the rich and the poor, the young and the old are all vulnerable to their grasp. Probably every one of us reading this post can recall a time when we have begged for God's miraculous healing for ourselves or someone else in an area of great suffering.
One aspect of believing on Jesus, of truly knowing and following Him, is that our belief transforms the way in which we interpret our reality. Every person has a lens through which he sees the world and interprets its meaning. Christ followers have the privilege of seeing the world as God sees it, and this ability to see as God sees gives us an advantage in facing the hardships of life.
In John 9, we meet a man blind since birth. That handicap may seem bad enough, but he lived in a day when his unfortunate defect drew greater social consequences than the already difficult life he faced. In his world, physical defects and poor health were often attributed to one's sins or poor standing before God. He was not seen as a man born into an imperfect world where disease often strikes at random, but as one facing the consequences of sin or moral failures.
It is no surprise, then, that as Jesus and His disciples passed this man one Sabbath near the Temple, His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" This man had spent almost every day of his life begging outside the Temple. His livelihood was dependent upon the kindness and generosity of others. Yet not only was he pitied; he was judged (9:1-2).
Immediately, Jesus takes this interaction beyond what is seen to the unseen, the supernatural realm at work. He replied to His disciples,
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (9:3)
We can all imagine what happened next. Jesus healed the man! He knelt, spit into the sand to make mud, and pressed the mud into the man's eyes. He then instructed the man to go to the pool of Siloam and wash his eyes (9:6-7). The blind man, choosing to believe Jesus, obeyed. He did as he was told, and because of his belief in Jesus, he was healed.
There are many rich truths we could extract from this passage as a whole, but today I want to focus on Jesus' interpretation of this man's suffering. Born blind, he had faced a lifetime of hardships and judgment. He could easily have spent his days shaking his fist toward God and saying, "How could you let this happen?" He could have spent his time bitterly asking why. Of course, we do not know how this man handled his handicap overall, but we do know that when he finally encountered Jesus, his life was changed. At this point, the man chose to forsake his previous worldview and to instead embrace Jesus' way.
Jesus explained that this man was born blind "that the works of God might be displayed in Him." This blind man, pitied by all, judged by many, found meaning in his suffering that day. From his lowly and dejected place on this earth, God raised him up for His glory and the blind man's good. Had he lived a "normal," healthy life as we all seek, the man born blind would have missed out on a most incredible encounter with the One True God. Truly, this man was more blessed than most! Later, when he was questioned by the Pharisees, who were on a mission to destroy Jesus, it must have been with great joy and utter amazement that he proclaimed: “Whether he (Jesus) is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see" (9:25). Can you imagine just how freeing it must have been for him to declare those words?
Truly, we cannot always find an explanation for our suffering. What we do know as Christ followers, though, is that all of our suffering will be used to the glory of God and for our good. In His grace, this even includes those consequences we face because of our sins. He can redeem what we have destroyed.
At times, like the man born blind, God even chooses to heal us from our present afflictions. We have all heard (or experienced) those stories. There is the man diagnosed with cancer who goes in for more thorough scans, only to be declared cancer-free. There is the infant diagnosed in the womb with a terminal disease, only to be born healthy and without any trace of that disease. There is the injured child, told he will never walk again, who miraculously recovers all abilities to walk. There is the barren and infertile woman, facing month after month and year after year of disappointment, only to become miraculously pregnant.
They are the kind of stories that raise the hairs on our arms and remind us that there is Someone greater in our midst. We are reminded that it is God who is the Great Physician. It is God who is the Giver of Life. It is God who is our Provider, our Healer, our Comforter. And all of these things are a reflection of the greatest way He heals us, which is by restoring our sin-ravaged and diseased souls through the blood of Jesus Christ. Praise Him, it is the Lord who heals us!
Of course, God does not always choose to heal in the ways we ask of Him. Can we find meaning in our suffering even when the answer is no? Even when God's way does not mean redeeming us from suffering, but keeping us in it? We will look at this next through the story of one woman.