Today, another installment from Bible nerd.
Something about the story found in John 9 can be a little disconcerting on its face. Jesus comes across a man blind since birth. According to first century Judaic thinking, people with disabilities had been cursed by God. Jesus’ disciples ask him whether the man is blind because of his own sin, or that of his parents. Jesus replies that neither sinned, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus then heals the man. (By the way, I’ve blogged about the significance of the way he healed him–by rubbing mud in his eyes– before. Check it out here. Jesus is so cool.)
So on its face it seems that Jesus is saying that God made the man blind his whole life just so Jesus would have someone to heal that day. Would a loving God really do that?
In Greg Boyd’s excellent book Is God to Blame? he looks at this episode. A more literal translation of the original Greek in John 9:3 is “Jesus answered Neither has this man sinned but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” The conjunctive “but”, however, is the Greek work “all” (ἀλλ’). It can be translated as “nevertheless”, “notwithstanding”, “yet” or “indeed.”
“He was born blind so that…” is implied in the text only if we assume that Jesus is answering the question of why God caused the man to be blind. If we do not assume that God caused the man to blind, then the question of whose sin caused God to do it, is meaningless.
A better reading of this verse then would seem to be “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. Let the work of God be revealed in him!”
Essentially Jesus is saying: “Who sinned you ask? Wrong question! What matters is seeing God’s redemption! Let God be glorified!”
In the very next verse Jesus says, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me.” There is a lot of brokenness and evil in the world. If we ask why God caused that evil, we’re asking the wrong question. The right question is “How can God, acting through his people, redeem this situation?”