Who Sinned That This Man Should Be Born Blind?
Today I would like to take up a topic that is very personal to many people, and because of that, many people get it wrong out of fear of hurting someone. I understand that. But we must teach God’s word as it is written.
The disciples come to Jesus asking, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” And then preachers and Bible scholars, who know more than me, say that people in that day thought personal calamities or sicknesses were the result of a person’s sins, and Jesus here destroys such erroneous thinking. I disagree. Granted, this is very sensitive territory and our answer must be delicate and nuanced, but throughout the Bible is the clear principle of sewing and reaping (Galatians 6:7).
So here we go. God said to Adam and Eve, “Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” They ate of it. And as our representatives (federal heads), we ate of it as well; that is, my wife and I would have done the same thing. So sin entered the world, and now we die. I can’t imagine the horror that came over their once pure souls when they realized what they had done; I can’t imagine the heartbreak that came over them when one of their sons murdered his own brother. Of course, Cain committed the act, but Adam and Eve brought it on – and so it is with us. We die because of our sin, and we die because of the sins of others. This is obvious when we look at fatalities due to drunk-driving, or the broken lives caused by sexual abuse, or “crack” babies. We live in a broken world that was, and still is, broken by our sin – my sin and yours.
Now comes the nuance: Does this mean that some poor woman will be diagnosed with cancer today because she said a curse word yesterday? Of course not. But it does mean that she is a broken, sinful woman who lives in a broken, sinful world. She can’t say, “I don’t deserve this.” And she certainly cannot say, “This is not the result of my sin.” All sickness and disease is the direct result of our sin. The gospel is predicated upon healing and saving people who are broken by their sin. If we deny this, we may as well part with our Bibles.
I am a “Type 2 Diabetic.” Why is this? I have no problem saying that my disease is the result of my sin. It’s partly genetic, and partly because I have a sweet tooth the size of Mount Everest. But my diabetes is my own fault. I can’t blame someone else, I certainly won’t blame God, and I abhor the idea that, well, it just happened. I live in a world which is controlled by a sovereign God. I don’t believe in, “just happened.” If things don’t happen in this world by the hand of God, be it directly, or more likely, through “secondary causes” that God uses, which is everywhere taught in Scripture (e.g., Amos 4:6-13), well, I wouldn’t and couldn’t live in such a meaningless, arbitrary world. I confess I am too weak for that, and if anyone takes a moment to realize what such a view of the world entails, they would say the same, or else they are simply blinded by insane pride and presumption.
So you say to me, then what of Jesus’ words, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” I answer the same way I answered above with my story of the woman who will be diagnosed with cancer today. I believe Jesus is saying that neither this man nor his parents committed some specific sin that is the result of this man’s blindness. In other words, this man was not born blind because one of his parents committed adultery before he was born, nor is he blind because he is, say, hateful. But I cannot accept that Jesus is saying that disease and calamity (even this man’s blindness) is not the result of human sin; this goes against everything we read throughout the Scriptures, and we must remember that Jesus is the word of God himself, and said on another occasion, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
We are broken people and we all have our own bodily ailments. Of course, some are worse than others. And our hearts break over the baby born blind or with some horrible disease. And, of course, we never say to those parents, “What sin did you commit?” It’s not what sin did they commit, but what sin did we commit? We are all swimming in this cesspool called the world where we all sin each and every day. And we commit sin because we are sinners; it’s our very nature to sin. We are truly in a terrible fix.
But that is exactly what Jesus came to fix. Because of the work that Christ was to do on the cross and through his resurrection, Jesus could say, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Now that Jesus has assumed our flesh and become our High Priest, even sin serves his purpose of redemption. It was sinners that Christ came to save (1 Timothy 1:15), and a broken world he came to restore (Romans 8:19-21). The Book of Revelation shows us the tree of life which sprouts leaves “for the healing of the nations” (22:1-2). And this is the great power of our God: He conquers sin, death, and hell, for us. His grace is magnified by destroying our sin. Truly, He is called “Wonderful.”