What! Are we blind too?
Disability, suffering, sorrow and the glorious purpose of God.
Some are born blind
Some are born blind or with autism or Downs or CF or spina-bifida or any number of other rare and unpronounceable conditions.
Some become blind or deaf or brain damaged or amputees or paralysed or detached from reality because of a chemical imbalance.
Each has a particular sorrow and a particular suffering. There is hardship and heartache. And you were not asked.
One of the reasons I believe and delight in and am helped by the Bible is it does not shy away from the realities of life which are hard, excruciating, strange, frustrating, tender, and awful. The Bible is not blind to blindness. Or to painful things and confusing things and shocking things.
Thankful for the Bible
I am profoundly thankful. What would we do or say of any value with a Bible that said nothing about it? Our ideas; opinions; comfort? They would be terribly empty and cold and shallow and quick-sand not rock. The Bible is soaked with suffering and sorrow and the light God sheds for us is bright and warm and steady.
I use ‘light’ deliberately. Right here (John 9), in the midst of suffering and sorrow and decades of cruel blindness in childhood and adult life is where Jesus says: ‘I am the light of the world.’ (John 9:4-5) We are not left in the dark in our darkness. There is light. Light to be guided by, and light to see by.
John 9:1-3: Disability and the purposes of God
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)
It affects the man physically (1: he can’t see), materially (8: he is a beggar), relationally (8: he has neighbours not friends, no wife or children mentioned, 21: his parents no longer aid him), spiritually (8:59: he is outside the temple grounds). It is profound and encompassing and horrific and life-long.
In 9:1-2 the disciples want to know cause. What or who made this happened? In 9:3 Jesus says the ultimate meaning of disability is not found in understanding the cause but in knowing the purpose. Disability exists so that ‘the works of God might be displayed in him.’ This is perhaps one of the most shocking, stunning, eye-opening, worldview shattering sentences Jesus never made.
Three stunning assumptions anchor 9:3, profoundly affecting our understanding of the world, our embrace of disability, and alignment to Jesus:
God is sovereign over disability, as he is all sorrow and suffering:
To be clear: God is sovereign before disability manifests and not just in using disability once it manifests. This is more than God is able to use his blindness but that God planned his blindness. We know this because:
The disciples are asking for an explanation (2) and if Jesus was simply saying God can use suffering that is no explanation. It suggests God, when he finds suffering, can use it (which is true but deficient). It does not explain suffering. That God plans all things for a purpose, even suffering, is an explanation. He is the planner not the responder to disability.
The implications of this are profound. No matter the mess or pain you are in the cause of that mess or pain is not decisive. It may have been your fault, or another’s fault, or (as with most disability) caused by sin’s prevailing effect in the world and not one person’s specific action. But that visible cause, though real, is not decisive. God’s planned purpose is. See the profoundness of 9:3. God has a sovereign, planned purpose that ‘the works of God may be displayed’ through your pain and mess, whatever its cause.
Passages like Exodus 4:11 and Psalm 139:13 clearly show God’s sovereignty active before (in ordaining and purposing) and not just after (in using) disability.
The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11)
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139:13)
God is sovereign and wise over conception and birth and life and accident and illness and incident. God could say no when there is defective chromosomes or genetic irregularities or a mutating cell or a chemical imbalance or a distracted driver or a jagged piece of shrapnel. And a million times a day he does. But when he doesn’t we can be sure he has his purposes and in his character they are good and wise and loving.
This is not a comfortable truth (in the sense of easy to grasp intellectually and emotionally) but once grasped it is deeply comforting (in the sense of anchoring and securing and reassuring us). God is not weak or cruel or mistaken when it comes to disability or suffering, but lovingly sovereign to have wisely ordained disability with a purpose. This is a profoundly better than any other view of God and his sovereignty. It is robust and whole and we can survive.
Visible causes are not the decisive explanation for suffering. The purposes and plans of God are. There is no child and no suffering and no disability outside of God’s purposes and not laden with design to display God’s work.
[In the audio version I quote from Joni Eareckson Tada and you can find
written version of these quotes here: http://lionheartedandlamblike.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/disability-and-god-joni-eareckson-tada.html)
God is valuable above disability, and above all suffering:
A second assumption is that these ‘works of God’ have such a value they outweigh the years of blindness. If that is not the case then God’s sovereignty is cruel. The works of God now and into eternity are of such beauty and worth they amply compensate a lifetime of pain and distress. Again it is profound.
The ‘works of God’ are not ultimately healing, which happens here. But that God’s grace in Jesus is shown as sufficient in sorrows and suffering whether there is healing or not. That is the case here with healing (6-7) and with non-healing such as in 2Corinthians 12:8-9.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
The ‘works of God’ is that in both healing and non-healing God’s grace is shown as sufficient. This is of infinite compensating value.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
There will come a time, 10 000 days from today, when we will authentically be able to look back at sorrow and suffering and profound disability and say they were ‘momentary’ and their burden was ‘light’. That day is not today. But it will come.
Put another way: ‘Your steadfast love is better than life.’ (Psalm 63:3)
God ‘sends’ disability, and all suffering, to help us see our own blindness.
After saying this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:6-7)
The command to ‘go’ and the pool of ‘sent’ are about the purpose this man with his disability has in God’s works. He has been ‘sent’. 9:4 assumes this too:
As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. (John 9:4)
In 9:4 the ‘we’ partners Jesus and the blind man in this ‘works of God displayed’ quest. In 9:4 Jesus is ‘sent’ from God as Jesus now ‘sends’ the man via the pool imagery (6-7). Sent to bring true, spiritual sight. It points us to the main purpose of this entire chapter.
All are born blind and need a miracle of Jesus to see.
The healing is just two verses of 41. Physical healing is marvelous but it is never the main thing. The main thing is we are all born blind spiritually and need a miracle of Jesus to see. This is what the man is ‘sent’ to do. Six controversial conversations follow in which both the Pharisees’ blindness and the man’s sight escalate when it comes to seeing Jesus.
Pharisees: ungodly man (16); sinner (24); outcast (29).
Man: man (11); prophet (17); Lord (38).
Ultimately the man sees Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘believes’ and ‘worshipped’ (35-39). Ultimately the Pharisees are blind even to their own blindness (40-41)!
Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.’ (John 9:37)
The goal is not ‘you have seen’ but ‘you have seen him’.
Five groups these theological megatons of God’s sovereignty over, value above and purpose in disability speak to:
They strengthen present and future parents of children with disabilities.
Future because these realities are best prepared for in advance. There will be a cause – medical or biological or genetic or accident or disease. But the cause is not the meaning of your child’s disability. Meaning is not found in past cause but in the present purpose – your child and your parenting is ‘so that the works of God may be displayed.’
ii. They honour and re-commission those who support people with disabilities in the home or through a career.
The Bible calls us to honour and commission you for that. It is not easy. Sometimes it is extremely hard. There is cost and sadness and guilt and frustration alongside joy.
iii. They urge a unique few into the calling to foster or adopt those with disabilities.
A glorious and profound and demanding calling. Is God calling you to pursue it?
iv. They invite us all to embrace those with disabilities.
The disciples are engaged because Jesus is engaged (9:1, 35). Jesus initiates. See people with disabilities like Jesus did. Approach and embrace and talk to people with disabilities like Jesus did.
v. They make glaringly obvious our own blindness to Jesus and the need for a miracle so we aren’t simply able to see, but able to see him.