From the House of The Nazarene. This will be a very in-depth deep dive study of the Book of John.
We are up to John 9, which is one of my favorite chapters in the Gospel for various reasons, and one of the reasons is because it is dramatic dialogue at its best. It is a great overview of terrific dialogue and understanding about the way the presentation of Jesus becomes more and more evident as we see it. Through His titles, we see progressive revelation about the person of Jesus. In a very real way, through the eyes of this blind man, we are also forced to see Jesus and decide how we will respond to Him.
There is a progressive development in the revelation of this one. Now keep in mind that this is continuing the narrative that was previously found in John chapters seven and eight, namely, the feast of tabernacles. We are still at the end of the feast of tabernacles. It is a seven-day feast that is going on and on the last day they would light up these huge lanterns.
In fact, they had these four gigantic stands and each of these stands had four golden bowls and these bowls were filled with oil. This sounds bizarre, but the wicks that they would use came from the undergarments of the priests. These 16 lights were in the courtyard of the women so they all had access to that. It was said that when they lit them up at night, all of Jerusalem would be ablaze. You have to keep in mind that there were no streetlights. All they had were candles, so this would be a brilliant thing for them to see.
The festival of tabernacles related to two themes; one was to water and the other was to light. As we have said before, in John chapter eight, John uses the imagery of Jesus being the light of the world and so we see this theme being picked up also in chapter nine. Look at chapter 8, verse 12 and, “Jesus, again spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life’.” So, if you contextualize that, it is very, very clear that Jesus is, in fact, using what is physical around Him at this period in time, on the last day of the feast, to show that He Himself is a greater light than Israel has yet known. He is the light that shines out in the darkness.
It is an image from John chapter one as well. Remember the light would shine in the darkness and the darkness could not comprehend it? Themes of light and darkness run all through John’s Gospel, as indeed it does throughout the entire Scriptures. You can do a wonderful study, going from Genesis through Revelation, focusing on the motif of light and darkness and how it all ties together. But this claim that we have here is that He is the light of the world. Now what we are going to see are four revelations of Jesus.
In verses one through 12 we are going to see Jesus as a man who is called Jesus, and that is all that the blind man knows about Him. Then we are going to him learning more about Him. He is going to realize that He is a prophet, beginning in verse 13 and going to verse 23. Then he is going to acknowledge that He is a man of God in verses 24 through 34 and finally he comes to regard Him as the Son of Man and worships Him at the end of the chapter.
There is a progressive development in the theme of the titles of Jesus. Listen to these titles that spill over each other, creating a message for the study of this Gospel. He is called a rabbi in verse two. He is called Jesus in verse three and is called the ‘Light of the world’ in verse five. He is called the ‘One who is sent from God’ in verse seven and He is ‘from God’ in verse 16.
Then He is ‘prophet’ in 17 and then He is called ‘Christ’ in verse 22 and the ‘Son of Man’ in 35 and then ‘Lord’ in verse 38. So there is a developing theme, a motif, of whom this Jesus is. This is extremely important because John, in doing so, was really forcing us as readers to discern where we stand with regard with this Jesus because if you go ahead to chapter 20 you will see John’s purpose statement, where he says that, “These signs I have selected are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ.”
Now, remember the word ‘Christos’ really referred to ‘the anointed one’. It would be ‘HaMashiyach’ in Hebrew and it meant the one who was anointed. That is a title and term laden with implications because of the fact that the Jews understanding, in the Hebrew Bible, was a progressive revelation of the power and authority of Christ, the Son of God, who was also the Son of Man and by believing you may also have life in His name.
These double meanings become particularly evident in this dramatic story because the double meaning will be the theme of light and darkness. Those who claim to have light are actually in darkness. The one who is born blind is believed to have been born blind because of something his parents had done or he was just born in sin.
In that way, the spiritual leaders are saying that this man has no spiritual discernment or any visual acuity. The two go together. The irony, of course, will be at the end when Jesus is telling them they are the ones who are blind. They claim to see but actually do not; they are still in their sins. There is an ironic turn to this, just as there was, as Jesus faced His accusers and turned it around and actually began to accuse them of their hardness of heart.
In fact, we have a lot of parallels between these chapters. In chapter five there is a man who is healed on the Sabbath. The temple leadership raised questions about this. Similarly, here in chapter nine, a man is healed of his blindness and it again occurs on the Sabbath. They are more concerned about that than they are about the fact that the man was healed from his blindness.
So, we see a theme of questions and then in both cases, Jesus finds the man and encourages that man and then He enters into an extended debate with Jerusalem’s theologians about the meaning of His authority. Both chapters have this kind of structure. One of the Synoptic structures that we find is that you have a healing account followed by a narrative of discourse and other confrontations that take place with it. Of course, we know that this theme of Jesus healing blind people is quite common in the Gospels and it seems to actually be disproportionate, doesn’t it? There are reasons for that.
It is a kind of hallmark to His ministry and you will see Him healing the blind man in Jericho and then two blind men in Galilee and then a blind man without speech, possibly in Capernaum, then a blind man in Bethsaida and one more in Jerusalem following the cleansing in the temple. So, it is quite intriguing that we have all of these. What we see, as well, as we see in other chapters too, is that our Lord performs miracles to meet human needs and as a proof of His Messianic claims, but also as a means of conveying spiritual truth.
None of His signs were de-contextualized from His claims or from His life. All His signs had a purpose. They just weren’t thrown in for fun. The greatest miracle in this chapter is not the opening of the blind man’s eyes but the opening of his heart. In understanding this thematic development, let’s take a look at the first seven verses, which is the actual account of the man who has been blind from birth and now becomes healed.
And so, after verse 59, when they picked up stones to throw at him and Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, you recall that He made the claim that before Abraham was, ‘He is’. Before that, He said, “Unless you believe that ‘I-am’ you will die in your sins,” so we have very, very strong claims along these lines. The claim of ‘ego-ami’ and the Jewish leaders understood that because if in fact, He was not who He claimed to be, then it would have been blasphemous and they would have been warranted to actually stone Him.
By the way, the Gospels are masters of understatement, it just says, “He hid Himself and went out of the temple.” That is no easy task when you are surrounded by hundreds of people. In any case, He did this and, in chapter nine, verse one, “As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind’?”
This is a very important question and Jesus’ response to this will have a great bearing on the issue of the problem of evil and suffering.
Now I’ve taken philosophy and loved it! It made me question and look deeper into the texts to find answeres to modern philosophical questions that have been raised since the time of Socrates. One example would be; “The problem of evil.” The problem of evil is the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God. An argument from evil claims that because evil exists, either God does not exist or does not have all three of those properties.
Logical Problem of Evil
The existence of evil and suffering in our world seems to pose a serious challenge to belief in the existence of a perfect God. If God were all-knowing, it seems that God would know about all of the horrible things that happen in our world. If God were all-powerful, God would be able to do something about all of the evil and suffering. Furthermore, if God were morally perfect, then surely God would want to do something about it. And yet we find that our world is filled with countless instances of evil and suffering. These facts about evil and suffering seem to conflict with the orthodox theist claim that there exists a perfectly good God. The challenged posed by this apparent conflict has come to be known as the problem of evil. However Jesus never left that question unanswered.
“Jesus answered, ‘It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him’.”
There is a bit of a struggle here. Many of our translations don’t get this right. There is a purpose clause that begins with the Greek word ‘hina’, which would mean ‘so that’. That purpose clause can actually be related to what follows or it can be related to what was previous. My view of this is that it relates to what follows. If that is correct, here is how you translate it. It would be something like this, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but so that the work of God might be displayed in his life, we must do the work of Him who sent Me while it is still day.” You see the difference? It is big. It is not saying that God made this man blind and therefore I am now going to use it. Or that God made this person blind just so that people would see Jesus heal the innocent man.
He is saying that in order for the work of God to be displayed in his life, we must do the work of God while it is day because I am not going to be here on this planet doing these things for a long time. I argue these two things: God foreknew the modern questions that would be brought up, and that evil and suffering are clearly the consequence of satans fallen world.
That consequence relates to a number of things and one of them is the spiritual warfare that is all about us. In that spiritual warfare, we discover, then, that there are forces of evil at work. There are also forces of evil within our very lives because we are born in the context of sin.
Psalm 51 makes it very clear, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity.” So, from the very beginning, David acknowledges that. In other words, we are born into this world and the solidarity with our progenitor, Adam, means that we are now people who carry on that fatal disease or Adam’s curse from generation to generation.
The problem that we have is that while we have biological life we do not have spiritual life. And so, the need for the good news of the second birth, the spiritual birth that gives us spiritual life, is really underscored by the evil that we see in this world. In a disease and death environment, because things are not as they were created, we are not as we were created.
We have changed ourselves. That Genesis 3 account is exceedingly central. To understand what human nature is about, in relationship to God’s intention, you have to understand how Genesis 1 and 2 precede Genesis 3. We are not now as we were originally. We have changed ourselves and as a consequence, then, we are no longer what God would have called “Very good.”
So, there is a distortion and from that point, then, it was needful for God to launch a program and a process in which the Messiah Himself would be the One who would come. The mystery of all mysteries was that God Himself would underwrite the cost of human sin in this world. It is a deep and profound mystery; that God would actually take it upon Himself is very unique.
Again, I have stressed this before, but I will do it again; only in the Biblical vision do we see a God who suffers for His people, who sacrifices for His people and who so wants us that He Himself will suffer and take upon Himself our own sin. This is utterly unique, and the world, not being the friend of grace, will always try and turn that thing around and it is the one thing that is going to be utterly set apart from human endeavors to arrive at religious systems.
All human endeavors always work out to be a system by which we somehow achieve, or hope we can achieve, being pleasing to God through our own efforts. It is what I call ‘bootstrap theology’; you are trying to lift yourself up to heaven by reaching down and pulling on your bootstraps.
So, the Scriptures emphasize a very different orientation. But Jesus, I want you to notice, doesn’t answer the question, head on does He? He says, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents.” That is an interesting thought. How could he have sinned if he was born blind? Is it a pre-incarnation kind of thing? Is it his parent’s evil? No, the answer is always this; we are never right to blame a specific disability on a specific sin. We have to very careful here about that sort of notion.
We are often tempted to say, ‘this is because of that’. We do not know. In the economy of God, it is not so simple. That is a simplistic understanding. We must understand that all physical problems in this fleeting world are consequences of the fall and of spiritual warfare and rebellion, but ultimately, we look ahead and realize that He will take away every tear from your eyes, that death will no longer be, that pain and suffering will be removed, and He will make all things new. The older I get, the more I treasure that hope.
I will be honest with you; I am getting to the point now where I have to finally admit I am more than halfway. I should have admitted that a long time ago. The fact is that if my hope were not in that, and I am wired in such a way that I can’t help but think about these questions, I would really be in a despairing situation.
What Pascal described as distraction and indifference are the two strategies of the human race. He predicted this in the 17th century and it is truer now than ever before. The basic strategies that I see people following, especially in our culture, are these two things. Distraction, and boy are we good at that or what? It is called entertainment. It is called mindless entertainment and deception and indifference, a posture of indifference. It is almost kind of an assumed skepticism. And so, we are forced in this Gospel, then, to really be confronted with the fundamental issues of life.
Jesus does not answer this question and the material on evil and suffering that can be derived from the Biblical materials help us understand some things about this. I will say simply that God Himself, though, is never accountable for the idea of committing an evil. He does create the conditions under which there are free agents that do choose evil. While God is the ultimate cause, He is not the secondary cause.
That is to say, He is never accountable for evil, though He allows it to happen in this world. He underwrites the cost and ultimately, He will overcome it.
Is blindness evil?
Blindness would be evil, in a sense, if you described it as a lack of a good thing. For example, it is not an evil thing for a creature that is sightless, or a stone or a vegetable but if we are dealing with a human being who has eyes for a purpose, then for them to have that deficiency would be a sign of evil in the sense that there is a lack of a good thing. It would be a deficiency of a good thing. So, the idea here is who sinned? They are immediately connecting it with sin. We must understand that in the new creation, there will be no blindness. No one will be lame; no one will be in a position to have physical deficiencies.