The Gospel of John now moves to the early ministry of Jesus, both in demonstrating his authority as from God, and reaching out to all beyond Israel alone. The message of Jesus has gone out from now from multiple witnesses, not just Jesus. From John the Baptist, following on the predictions and words of the Old Testament and of Moses. And even so: I know you do not have the love of God in your hearts (5:42), how are you going to believe what I say (5:47). And the challenge has been: No fence sitting now about the person of Jesus. The miraculous signs of John’s gospels now speak to the identity and authority of Jesus as the Son of God:
- Changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana (Jn 2:1-11);
- Healing the royal official’s son (Jn 4:46-54);
- Healing the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem (Jn 5:1-15);
- Feeding the 5,000 (Jn 6:5-14);
- Walking on water (Jn 6:16-21);
- Healing the man born blind (Jn 9:1-7); and
- Raising Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:1-45).
This is a bitter-sweet time in the early ministry of Jesus. The text is clear. Because of Jesus’ teachings, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. John 6:66. But this is also a time of clear affirmation of the Person of Jesus among the core of the disciples. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. John 6:68. Now we move to the great question of why people suffer.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” John 9:1-5.
1. If God Allows Suffering, Is He unable to Prevent this in a World He Created? God is not omnipotent. The premise is this – suffering must be the result of sin. Right? And secondly, how can that be if this man was blind from birth? Before he could sin. In the world of the Pharisees, God’s blessings and curses were measured in the physical world – if you were wealthy, if you had a large family and many children, if you were obese, these were measures of God’s blessings. But if you were ill or sick (leprosy the standard measure for God’s judgment to many), or poor, then that was the curse of God and was the result of sin. Jesus categorically rejected these premises and standards.
2. If God allows Suffering, He must not be Loving. God is not omniscient. God is either not able to present bad things in this world, or he is not loving enough to prevent those human calamities. Jesus categorically rejects this premise as well.
3. God’s Purposes Measured Against Life Experiences. Essentially Jesus corrected the disciples and those around him by affirming that God’s purposes are greater than the mere experiences or circumstances of life around us. In other words, there are two reasons God allows suffering, in the largest sense: (1) that in the life of those who suffer, the words of God can be shown. This was affirmed with the healing of the blind man. And (2), to reflect back on the Person of Jesus, that He alone is the light of the world, with the authority and ability to heal, predict the future, and demonstrate the power of life over death, ultimately seen in the cross and resurrection.
The Bible gives us the larger picture in human suffering, and its purposes:
1. To Give us an expanded View of God in our life. Job 42.
2. To remind us we live in a fallen world. James 5.
3. To give us the opportunity to bear the burdens of others. Galatians 6.
I have faced this straight on in two ways: In October 1968, I was in a motor vehicle accident where my younger brother was killed, and I almost died. Secondly, being raised by a single parent, that parent, my mother, contracted multiple sclerosis at age 40 and died not long after that. We are not promised a long, problem-free life. We are promised that nothing happens to us that exceeds the control or purpose of God. God’s better results have come in the lives of many because of those events, and God is still in control of our world. God’s best to you this week.