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When a natural disaster strikes people look for answers. Why did this happen? Who is to blame? Could the government have done more to prevent flooding, could the warning sirens have been triggered sooner? When someone has a miscarriage they naturally wonder if there might have been something they could have done to prevent it, maybe more vitamins, less exercise. As we face what’s being called a pandemic people are looking for answers. Where did this virus come from? What can we do about it? Who is to blame?
Those who are Atheists will look to blame government, or fate, or themselves, but they will also use whatever bad thing is happening as proof that there is no god. They will say things like, “If God is as loving and powerful as you say he is, then he surely would not let things like this happen, therefore he must not really exist, or if he does he’s worthless.”
Those who are Christians struggle with disaster, disease and loss too, but in a little different way. We are convinced that there is a God and that his power and love are beyond what we can imagine. We know that the reason for disaster, disease and loss is sin. But, like everyone else, we want to place blame somewhere when bad things happen.
That was the case with the disciples. They passed by a man who had been born blind and they were struggling trying to figure out why this happened. If he had become blind later in life it might have been easier to explain. Maybe there had been an accident. Maybe someone dropped him when he was a child, or he was climbing on something and fell. If he became blind when he was older, maybe he had contracted a disease because of a sinful lifestyle that caused his blindness. But none of those things applied if he was born blind. So, was it God’s fault? If so, wouldn’t that be saying God is evil? Was it the man’s fault? But how could he sin before he was born? Was it the parents’ fault? Maybe they had done something that caused his blindness? When something bad happens, we are always looking for someone or something to blame.
Sometimes that’s easy to do. If someone is driving drunk and smashes into a tree it’s obvious that the one to blame is the person who chose to drive drunk. But, in most cases, it’s not that easy. Yes, when something bad happens it is because of sin, but often it’s not the result of one specific person’s sin. Often it’s the result of many peoples’ sins, or just the fact that Adam and Eve sinned and because of that every human became subject to sickness, disease and death.
As Jesus was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. 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 God’s works might be revealed in connection with him.
Was Jesus saying that neither this man nor his parents were sinful? No! He was saying that there was no specific sin that either this man or his parents had committed that resulted in his being born blind. The reason he was born blind was simply the fact that we live in a sinful and imperfect world. In the process of his conception, growth in the womb and birth, something went wrong. Maybe his eyes didn’t form properly. Maybe his optic nerve didn’t form properly, or didn’t connect to the proper place in his brain. Maybe the portion of the brain that decodes the messages from the eye didn’t form properly. Our bodies are unbelievably complex. Considering all the things that could go wrong in our conception, growth in the womb and birth, it’s a miracle that there are not more defects than there are.
What exactly was the problem that caused this man’s blindness Jesus doesn’t say. He lets that remain hidden. But he reminds his disciples and us that, no matter what it is, God will use it for good. In this particular case, God would use his blindness to reveal his works, to show not only his power even over blindness, but to highlight the fact that Jesus is the Light of the World. He would use it to contrast those who claimed to be able see but were really blind with this man who was both physically and spiritually blind, but was given that ability to see Jesus as his savior both physically and spiritually.
God often keeps the specific answer to why things happen hidden. Jesus did this on another occasion when he was asked why certain people were killed by Pilate in the temple courts, or why certain people were killed when the tower of Siloam fell. By nature, we want to know, we want to fix some blame. Like the disciples, and Job’s friends, we assume God is punishing someone. Jesus makes it clear that those people were not being punished by God because they were great sinners and deserved such a death. But he doesn’t say what the reason was. Instead he uses the question as an opportunity to do the work of God. He uses it as an opportunity to call people to repentance. He says, do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
This should be our response whenever there is a natural disaster, or an illness, or disease we have no control over. Why is this happening? Because sin entered the world and death through sin and so death passed to all because all have sinned. Don’t worry so much about fixing blame. Those who get sick aren’t getting sick because they are more guilty than everyone else. A pandemic, or even just the common flu, doesn’t care who you are or what you have done. It affects Christians, Atheists, Muslims, every race, rich and poor because everyone is a sinner living in a world that is subject to sin and is headed for destruction.
Like Jesus, we can and should use the feeling of helplessness and lack of control that people have in times of trouble as an opportunity to do the work of God. First of all, it’s a reminder for ourselves that this life is not permanent. Some illness or disaster could strike us at any moment. No matter how faithful we are, we are still sinners living in a sinful world and, sooner or later, in one way or another, we will have to face death. As the Bible reminds us often, we need to be prepared for our death, or Jesus’ second coming, every minute of every day. The night is coming when no one can work. And the only way to be prepared is by having the Light of Christ shine on us.
As he did with the man born blind, Jesus has shown us who he is. He has graciously brought us into contact with the word so that the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and brought us who were once darkness, to the light of faith, who were born dead in sin, to life. He has opened our spiritual eyes so that we see Jesus as the Light of the World, as the Son of Man who has lived in our place, died to pay for our sins, and risen from the dead.
So, “Why did this happen?” Only God knows the full answer to that question and he’s probably not going to reveal any more to us than he already has. It happened because of sin. But, it also happened so that the work of God might be displayed. It’s a stark reminder that humans are not as much in control as they think they are. It’s a stark reminder that everyone is mortal. It’s a reminder to know and then share what’s most important, even more important than a cure for every disease. What’s most important is knowing where you would be if you got sick and died from this or another illness, or if some accident took your life. Are you and your loved ones right with God? Are you blind, or can you see that Jesus is the light of the world, the only way of salvation for anyone?
If you do see that Jesus is the Light of the World, your savior from sin, Paul says that you are now light in the Lord. Especially in times of trouble and uncertainty, it’s important for you to live as children of light, to let your light shine and declare the praises of the one who has called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Let people see that the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. People will sense that you have a peace and calm about you that they want and need. So be prepared to tell them why. Be prepared to tell them something similar to what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego told king Nebuchadnezzar. “God can deliver us from a virus, or anything that may threaten our lives. He is almighty. There isn’t anything he can’t do. But, he has not told us that he will deliver us. Either way, I’m going to continue living my life for him, striving to avoid the deeds of darkness, and trusting that he will either deliver me, or even better, he will take me to be with him in heaven.”
Why did this happen? Don’t get all caught up in trying to answer that question by fixing blame on yourself or others. Instead, take the time to examine yourself, recognize your own sin, and rejoice that you know that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Light of the World, your savior from sin. Look for opportunities to do the work of God and remind others that disease and disaster are reminders of sin and of our need for a savior, and that Savior is Jesus.