Why Was This Man Born Blind?

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel story opens with Jesus’ disciples asking him whose sin was the cause of a man’s blindness, his or his parents. It seems a strange question to our ears. I doubt that most people today believe that their sins will be visited on their offspring. But in Jesus’ day, this idea was still prevalent. That explains the possibility of his blindness being due to his parents’ sin. But how on earth could his blindness be due to his sin, if he was born blind? The answer, of course, is that he must have sinned in the womb. According to Jewish tradition, this was possible. For example, if the mother worshiped an idol while pregnant, the fetus was considered guilty of idolatry as well.

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In any case, Jesus dismisses both possibilities. The man’s blindness was due neither to his parents’ sin nor to his own. Instead, Jesus says, “He was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him.” This sentence is ambiguous. It can be paraphrased in two very different ways. “He was born blind on purpose: that God’s power might be revealed through his miraculous healing.” In other words, God deliberately made him blind at birth, and allowed him to suffer, in order that a miracle might be performed years later. I reject that understanding and the theology that it represents. The paraphrase I prefer is this: “Yes, this man was born blind, but as a result, God’s power will be revealed through his miraculous healing.” Here, there is no implication that God willed his blindness, only that good will now come of it. I prefer to think that God was pleased to bring good from a bad situation that he had not willed, rather than that God actually willed the bad in order to bring about the good. Of course, my preferred paraphrase doesn’t really answer the question of why the man was born blind!

Looking at the state of the world today, with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, we too might ask the question, Why? But I’m not sure that there is a satisfactory answer. We know that God loves us. We know that God gave his only Son to save us. And yet God allows a virus to kill innocent people. It is a profound mystery that we cannot hope to solve in this life! So, instead of fruitlessly asking why, perhaps we should ask another, more hopeful question: What good will God bring from this terrible pandemic? Ponder that instead, and put your hope in God!

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© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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