In my Christian walk, I’ve known that life can be hard. However, for the most part, this truth has been somewhat of a “Christian theory” that I’ve been taught to be true. I’ve been blessed to live and have means to live. I’ve been blessed with an amazing wife who loves me unconditionally, and largely despite me. And we have been entrusted with three small people whose weight of joy I could have never understood until I met them.
But it is true that life can be hard. And although difficulty and suffering are sometimes brought on by our own sin or foolishness, sometimes God allows suffering that is not a result of any direct action on our part.
In John 9, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man born blind. For the disciples, the world is a cut and dry place. You sin, and you bear the consequences. You live righteously and you get the appropriate blessings here and now. And so when they see the blind man, they ask Jesus a question that for them was simply logical: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
This particular story has never really ranked very high on my list of “inspiring stories of the Bible.” I think that is because in my life, I had never really asked the question myself, “why is this suffering in my life?” But anyone who has experienced pain or tragedy at some point does end up asking the question, “why?” “Was it me?” “Did I walk outside God’s will?” “Was it because I didn’t read my Bible enough or pray enough?” “Was it because my upbringing didn’t please God?”
“Could someone have done something differently?”
I think it’s a safe assumption that the parents of this blind man had wrestled with the question, “why God?” And I can only imagine how many times the man himself asked, “why?”
Jesus responds to his disciples, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Jesus’s response is a shocking and yet wonderful truth. Shocking because he places God in the seat of responsibility. The “so that” phrase in verse 3 implies that there was purpose. In other words, this blind man wasn’t born blind, and then God decided, “well, since he’s blind, I’ll use it to my glory.” No, God, in his wise sovereignty allowed suffering to mark this man.
If sovereignty were God’s only clear attribute, I don’t think it would bring much solace or hope in suffering. But God did not just allow suffering because he was sovereign. He allowed it so that God’s glorious redemptive power might be shown to the blind man and his parents, to the disciples, and everyone who heard of the account.
In the following verses, Jesus heals the man. He reverses the cause of suffering. He redeems the man and removes the mark of shame that defined this man’s life. Jesus demonstrated that God is good.
For this blind man, life was hard. For him, there was no amount of Bible reading or praying or evangelizing that would change the fact that his life was marked by suffering. And God had intended it to be that way. Because God had planned that when this man’s life appeared hopeless and beyond repair, God would step in and bring redemption that only God could bring. Later, Jesus would walk to the hill of his execution, according to the sovereign plan of God. God would pour out his white-hot, holy anger against our sins onto his only Son. And Jesus would experience the incredible suffering that exists in a fallen world in rebellion against its maker. All in order to show God’s goodness.
Life is hard. And oftentimes it is hard due to no direct fault of our own. And through tears and crying out, we ask God, “why?” “Why is it this way?” And God is waiting to show us the power of his rule over all creation, and the pure goodness of his heart.
God is sovereign. And God is good. These are the pillars that hold my world up.