This post continues a series on a passage of Christian Scripture, John 9 (The Healing of the Man born Blind). The usual themes of culture, traditions, and redemption will be discussed, but they will be applied to interpreting this passage of Scripture, as I prepare to preach on this passage on Sunday. This post is not meant to be a commentary on any specific current events in the United States. It is purely part of my preparation for Sunday, and will be continued tomorrow.
Many of us are enraged. And we are wrong for it. We wake up with a subtle, but undeniable feeling of rage every day. It is a feeling that, somehow, events and interactions in life are orchestrated to cause us some measure of dissatisfaction and pain, and we are powerless to change them. This is a wound that we carry with us through life.
In response, many of us have attempted to duck-tape our wounds with religiosity, piety, service to others, or general good deeds. We endeavor to live good, common-sense lives, but we believe that our everyday goodness ought to net us some respite from the adverse life we deal with every day. In the end, though, the serum only makes the sickness worse.
I see this all the time, especially from my fellow Christians. I believe there are popular media outlets that knowingly nuture and profit from this outlook, but I also believe those outlets didn’t create anything new — they’re only exploiting a weakness that has existed since the dawn of humankind. But I believe this is harmful to us, to the kingdom of God, and to the world around us, and it must be stopped.
I believe Jesus was countering this mentality when he encountered the blind beggar at the Temple:
“…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. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.'” (John 9:1-5)
Theology is Important
Theology is not just an intellectual pursuit; it governs the decisions that people make each day, and affects the destiny of untold numbers of people. Take for example the following question: is the world evil, or does the world belong to God?
Some would say that the world is indeed evil (because of this, this, and this). Some say the world is neutral. Some say the world does belong to God, but it has evil people. Any of these answers have great implications for one’s life. For example:
Do you send your children to Christian school because the world is evil and you need to protect them?
Do you send your children to public school because the world belongs to the Lord, and you intend to be a light to those in darkness?
Do you send your children to Christian schools because the world is God’s and you want them to learn about the world from a Christian perspective?
These are not the only possible answers, but I hope it is easy to see how our own personal theology governs how we answer important questions, and therefore has huge implications for our lives and the lives of our children.
The Theology of the Disciples
I’ve heard that the view expressed by the disciples was very common in those days: sin would bring material judgment to oneself or one’s children. I’m not saying that the claim is without any thread of truth, but this particular application is especially harmful. By asking Jesus, “who sinned?”, the disciples are showing that they believed that the outcomes of one’s life can be manipulated by one’s actions. It’s the same kind of mentality that I described at the beginning of this post.
Good things happen to people who do good things, and bad things happen to people who do bad.
The only problem with that is that it’s just not true. I know of a wonderful married couple who had at least 4 miscarriages before finally having their first child a couple of years ago. Tell me, who sinned — them or their parents?
In that situation it seems like a terrible, horrible way to think — but perhaps we need just such a stark situation to see the folly of the mentality. In reality, it would be better for all of us if we stopped thinking in terms of good deeds and bad deeds, because our conceptions of good deeds are usually based in some sort of “common-sense living”, which is grounded more in the traditions of our culture than it is in anything that God ever said.
There is None Good but God
There is a story in the New Testament, recorded in three of the Gospels, about the Rich Young Ruler. In it, Jesus makes a very peculiar statement:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
By making this statement, Jesus was exposing the flaw in the young ruler’s theology, which was the same as the disciples’: that by doing “good” things, one can be better than others, and thereby make oneself deserving of a better life, or even of heaven. The young ruler was attempting to align Jesus himself with the petty “good” deeds of which he was so proud, but Jesus was not about to go along with his line of thinking.
“Young man,” Jesus might as well have said, “there is nothing about me that in any way is connected to these things you do which you think are somehow commendable. I’m not interested in your ‘good’ deeds, because by calling me ‘good’ you’ve shown that you do them for yourself — yourself, and no one else.”
The “Jesus Turn”
Easy for Jesus, he always turns the issue toward himself. He points out that sin on the part of some human being had nothing to do with the blind man’s blindness. Sin had nothing to do with it because God did not create this world for us — he created it for his own glory. And if he did in fact create this world and everything in it for his glory, then there is no point in asking whether something like blindness — or miscarriages, or disability, or anything else — is due to some good or bad deed that was done in the past. The outcomes and situations in which we find ourselves are there because of God’s choosing, and they are the way they are because God made them — for his own glory.
In this line of thinking, there are no longer good deeds or bad deeds — there is only God, and the things that he calls us to do. Those are the only things that matter, and the only things that we should really concern ourselves with.
How would life change if there was no more rage?
So, to come back to the original statement, such a mentality would do away with our subtle reliance on rage. If we really understood that God is looking for our devotion, and not our good deeds, then our lives would change completely — and the world would be better for it.
We would no longer behave passive-aggressively — we would communicate our feelings honestly and confidently, because we would first seek the Lord’s direction.
When things go wrong for us, we would not be so quick to react with anger because we would see it as an opportunity for the works of God to be displayed.
We would be more likely to help people in poorer circumstances than us, because we would not be so quick to see them as simply reaping the consequences of some poor decisions.
Maybe — I’m not 100% sure about this, but I’ll throw it out there — there would be no more culture wars, because we would no longer have the mistaken idea that the culture of some earthly democracy ought to somehow conform to Scripture.
All of this we could experience, if we really understood that there is none good but God.