21 days of prayer and fasting - John 9
It is a dramatic story. It also raises some important questions that philosophers have wrestled with over the centuries.
The man was constrained, bound, restricted. Born blind, he had never seen the world as most do. There must have been immense practical and psychological problems as a result.
Yet it was far worse than most of us might imagine. The religious leaders and teachers of the day would have assumed that this was the result of judgement on the sin of the family. A harsh understanding of the Law of Moses might prompt this - there are blessings for obedience and curses (judgments) for disobedience (see Deut 28, for example).
Not only did he struggle with the constraints of blindness in a world he could hardly imagine, but he was stigmatised. He was not just a victim of blindness but somehow he and his family were blamed for it. That is, sadly, a pattern often repeated today.
Even the disciples, who were learning about grace from the best teacher ever, asked the question. “Who sinned?”
It can be an honest question. Since the earliest times people have asked “Why do the innocent suffer?” or “Why are there natural disasters?” If God is powerful He can stop them so He must have a reason to cause or permit them.
An honest and legitimate question. And there are partial answers.
If mankind is made in God’s image then we have to have the freedom to choose. God took the risk of allowing us to respond to Him freely.
We could think of how the world is spoilt by sin: greed causes the world systems to be dysfunctional. Even natural disasters like earthquakes are the result of geological features that have a good purpose and are part of the way the world is made. But in a world spoilt by greed the natural processes are out of joint. Paul expresses this as “bondage to decay” in Romans 8:21.
However, theoretical answers only go part of the way. Jesus’ answer was to heal him as a sign of the coming kingdom. This man was set free as a sign that one day all who respond to Jesus will be set free when the Kingdom comes fully and He returns. Meanwhile, the kingdom of God is among us and it is coming - we do not yet see it fully manifested on the earth.
We have new life in Christ now - so we see answers to prayer and miracles. But we do not yet have the fulness of that new life - it will be complete in the future.
The Pharisees were blind guides who thought they could see. They thought they were free but in fact they were enslaved to a way of seeing the world that gives no room for God! They could explain to God how He should work. They could prove it from the scriptures.
But as Job discovered, and as this man born blind discovered, the only answer is a revelation of who God is and an encounter with Him.
They threw him out of the synagogue - he was excluded from the Jewish community. But he was free. He had met Jesus!