The Man Born Blind
“As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him’ ” (vv. 1–3).- John 9:1–7
Why do we experience sickness, deformities, and death? The metaphysical naturalist who believes that this physical world is all there is and that it arose purely by chance would answer that these calamities exist merely as a result of biological happenstance. These things are here because that is how genes have evolved. They are not foreign invaders into the living realm; rather, they are part and parcel of the existing systems.
Scripture gives us a far different answer. Sickness, deformities, and death are, broadly speaking, the result of sin. When Adam fell, the world was cursed, and all of these maladies are in some way manifestations of the curse. The world is not as it should be because sin infects the world, and all creation is groaning in anticipation of its release from this bondage to sin (Gen. 3:17–19; Rom. 8:18–25).
Yet, although all suffering is a consequence of life in a fallen world, that does not mean every ailment is due to a specific sin committed by the one who suffers from the malady. The book of Job, for example, will not let us draw that conclusion. That did not stop many first-century Jews, however, from concluding that the suffering of an individual must be due to his personal sin. We see this reflected in today’s passage when the disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused the blindness of the man they encounter (John 9:1–2).
The disciples have a poor theology of sin and suffering, but unsurprisingly, Jesus does not. Blindness in this case is not a consequence of an individual’s sin but an occasion for the works of God to be manifested (v. 3). The man’s blindness will create an opportunity for healing that will reveal the goodness of God and the identity of Jesus.
Nothing is more important than to do the works of the Lord. Jesus is particularly conscious of this, knowing that the time is short for doing these works, for He will not always be in the world (vv. 4–5). Here our Savior is not speaking absolutely, for after departing the world He will be present by His Spirit to empower His people to do the works of God (Acts 1:8). Rather, He is speaking of the coming ordeal of His crucifixion and the immediate aftermath before Pentecost when the disciples will not be ministering openly.
Jesus then does a work of God, healing the man by applying mud to his eyes and having him wash it off (John 9:6–7). We do not know why Jesus has him do this except to note that as the sovereign Creator, He has the right to heal by whatever means He chooses.
John Calvin comments, “We cannot always put our finger on the causes of the punishments which men endure.” We may not infer automatically that a person who is suffering has committed a specific sin. Sometimes the suffering is related to a sin, but not always. In either case, our duty is to help the suffering person in whatever way we are able and in whatever way will provide true assistance.
Passages for Further Study