Archive for March 27, 2009
In our bedroom, my wife Melody has a jewelry cabinet. She received it as a Christmas present from her mother a couple of years back, and she absolutely loves it. No more jewelry boxes with rings, necklaces, and earrings overflowing. Her jewelry never fit in those. That’s why, instead of a box, she has a whole cabinet.
Now, Melody does not wear particularly valuable jewelry. That’s why, when she found out that her new jewelry cabinet came with a lock and a key, she simply decided to leave the key in the lock. That way, she would never have any problem getting into her cabinet. So you can imagine Melody’s frustration when one day, she walks to her jewelry cabinet to find its key missing and its door locked. Who could have done such a sinister thing? Well, a couple of hours earlier, our nephews, Noah and Nicholas, had visited. Melody now had two suspects.
When she saw Noah and Nicholas next, the interrogation was brutal. The white room. The hard wooden chair. The bright light. Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad, but Melody was still relentless in her search for the truth. After all, she wanted her key back and, after some intense questioning, she believed the culprit to be Nicholas. She could see the guilt in his eyes. But Nicholas wouldn’t crack with a confession. For he knew that he had committed a crime. And with crime always comes punishment. And punishment is something that Nicholas could not bear to endure.
With crime always comes punishment. This is the way things work with parents and children, aunts and nephews, and, in the first century, this is the way that people believed things to work with God and humans. The ancient rabbis were unanimous in their teaching that punishment, or suffering, was the result of crime, or sin. Rabbi Ammi wrote, “There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.” If you were suffering, the rabbis taught, it was because you had committed a crime. And now had come the inexorable punishment. But the rabbis took it even further than this. For many of them taught that not only could a person be punished for their own sin, but also that a child could be punished for their parents’ sin. Some rabbis believed, for instance, that the untimely death of a child was the direct result of his mother’s dalliance in idolatry while he was still in the womb! This was the close connection that rabbis perceived between crime and punishment. And in the face of such crime, God’s justice could not and would not be commuted.
Thus, it is no surprise that, one day, as Jesus and his disciples are walking around and see a man born blind, they ask: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind” (John 9:2)? Jesus’ disciples knew the teaching of their rabbis well. There is no punishment without crime. But, in John 9, they weren’t following all these other rabbis, they were following a Rabbi named Jesus. And Rabbi Jesus had a different take on crime and punishment: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). This suffering was not the result of this sin or that sin. Rather, God was up to something in this suffering: he was using it to display his work.
The Greek word for “display” is phaneroo, from the word phos, meaning “light.” God, it seems, desired to bring this man darkened by blindness into the light of seeing. But God’s desire centered on not only the light of physical seeing, but the light of spiritual seeing as well. In other words, Jesus, through his eventual healing of this man born blind, desired to bring this man into the light of faith. And this is exactly what happens in the end: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks. “Lord, I believe,” the man responds (John 9:35, 38). And the man is brought into the light not only physically, but spiritually as well.
Perhaps you are in a time of suffering right now. If you do indeed know that your suffering is the result of some sin in your life, I would invite you to repent. But if the source of your suffering is somewhat more ambiguous, maybe you should ask God to shed some phos on your pain. Ask him, “Where are you seeking to display your work in my life?” And then wait. And trust. And yes, even rejoice. For God is using you and your pain to display his work. And, if you ask me, that’s a pretty special privilege.