As he went 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?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:1-3
Jesus corrects a lot of harmful theology in the gospels.
The confident, religious authority gets it wrong.
They get mad.
It’s a repeated plot throughout.
In this passage, Jesus corrects a form of spiritual abuse: the idea that if there is something “bad” in your life, it is a direct result of your sin, or by extension, your parents’ sin.
The converse is also a common misconception: People whose lives are going well, or perhaps whose children’s lives seem to be prospering, credit their fidelity to God, righteous living, or living Christian practices or disciplines. I’ve even heard Christians say their life goes better when they attend church or read the Bible, as if there’s some sort of mystical transaction going on.
This fusion of Christianity and magical thinking is prolific. It’s everywhere. It affects the way many Christians think and so live their lives. But it’s a subtle form of judgment for everyone that sees a lack of perfection in their lives – which is all of us.
I’ve seen the claims on social media:
“Congratulations to our child getting married; we prayed for your future spouse and here they are…”
“Your reliance on God has paid off; congratulations on your graduation and acceptance into three colleges…”
“When I faithfully ‘do my devotions’ life is just better."
We don’t see the posts about depression, or the child with addiction, or struggles with life choices, or running away, or broken marriages, or chronic illness. Maybe we wouldn’t even want to see these. Yet these people prayed as much as those whose prayers were answered.
But maybe they didn’t pray enough? Or maybe they weren’t righteous enough? After all, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective…”
Yeah, but sometimes they AREN’T powerful. Sometimes they’re NOT effective.
The abusive result is faithful people have unanswered prayer and shame.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This verse is one of those that have been used to abuse and shame. Many who train up their children in the way they “should go” DO depart from it, because they’re adults. By the way, that “way they should go” phrase has been PACKED by Christians to mean whatever they want.
If someone has lived under this abuse, when something - anything - goes wrong in their life, they frantically search their minds for how they’ve offended God to cause their misfortune.
Jesus tells the disciples and us that we haven’t done anything wrong. Let that sink in. We haven’t done anything wrong to cause misfortune in our life.
*Disclaimer of the obvious: If you do destructive things in your life, you will reap destruction. If you abuse drugs, you may become an addict and lose your money and health. If you drive on the wrong side of the street, you will probably cause an accident. If you punch a wall, it will hurt.
But God, in his omniscience and omnipotence, doesn’t have a secret tally of consequences to dole out to those that have “sinned.” Christian Karma is an invention of fear, not love, forgiveness, and freedom.
What can we do?
As usual, the answer is to understand that Jesus came to accept everyone. EVERYONE to him, because we – every one of us – are the blind man.
In fact, he gives us what we don’t deserve or what we think we might deserve. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!” Romans 5:8-9.
God’s love for you is overflowing...
So why does bad stuff happen? I don’t know. Neither does your pastor. I could talk about how we suffer the common consequences of living in a fallen and broken world, and that Jesus is coming back to fix it, or explain the doctrine of original sin, or replay the story of Adam and Eve, but that doesn’t necessarily help in the here and now.
All I know is that God loves me, and you. He wants us all to see Him. And he has some sort of a plan. How do you know that, Jonathan? I don’t KNOW. I just have faith.
Back to the man born blind. If you read the whole chapter, you learn that Jesus heals the man, and the religious leaders become angry – livid — that the blind man doesn’t come up with plausible answers as to how this happened. The (formerly) blind man tells them, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
The story illustrates that we don’t have to know everything to believe. We don’t have to completely understand God to put our faith in Him. Sometimes God just appears in our lives, and it’s enough to say “Thank you. Welcome. I invite you in.”
It also highlights that those who THINK they have God figured out are ALSO the blind ones.
Those “experts” are more interested in holding onto authority and categorizing good and evil than pointing people to Jesus.
God sees you. God loves you. And God is not punishing you.