The following is a link to our reading today:
“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1-2
Most people, when they hear this story, are horrified. I was horrified. How on earth could anyone in today’s world think that the people lying in those hospital beds had caused their own illness? Didn’t he know he was just adding to their suffering rather than helping to relieve it? I was embarrassed on behalf of all clergy. I thought of the story of the healing of the blind man from John. When asked directly by his disciples about the cause of the blind man’s blindness Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Human illness is not caused by sin, pure and simple.
Think about it for a minute. Have you ever thought to yourself, “If people receiving welfare would just go find a job, then they wouldn’t need welfare?” Or perhaps you thought, “I know depression is an illness, but if she would just make a little effort to get up and get out she would feel better.” Or maybe you thought, “He must be lazy, that is why he is so overweight and now needs bypass surgery.” Or you might have even thought, “People who need to get food assistance at places like Bread for Life must have something wrong with them. They must be mentally ill, or lazy, or criminals. It isn’t safe for me or my children to be around them.” I think you get my point. All of us label other people. All of us put other people in categories. All of us fall victim from time to time to cause and effect thinking.
And apparently this is not how God sees the world or us, thank God. Apparently, God does not view our suffering through the lens of cause and effect. God simply sees our suffering. I don’t claim to understand Jesus’ statement that the man in this story from John was born blind “so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Presumably God does know the answer to the question, “why does suffering exist?” This story is not an answer to that question. But I do know from this story and other stories about Jesus, that God does not use suffering to punish us for the things we do wrong. Suffering is not a punishment for our sins. It just is.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. John 9:39-41
Embrace the unknown. Embrace your uncertainty. Rest in the knowledge that God sees your suffering and the suffering of the world. Rest in the knowledge that God is present in your uncertainty. Rest in the knowledge that God is present in the unknown.