Does Sin Cause Sickness?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus is recorded in the New Testament as healing blindness six times, more often than any other particular sickness. The case in our text is the only one in which it is said the victim was born blind, and the only instance in the four gospels in which any sufferer was said to have been afflicted since birth.
John 9:1 (Holman) As He was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth.
Jesus had just left a tempest of controversy, a heated verbal exchange with the leaders. Had He been willing, the debates could have continued indefinitely, but Jesus did not let His ministry degenerate into one continuous argument.
He did not enjoy controversy. Jesus left rancorous debate to go help a world in need. Though the crowds by and large reviled Him and ultimately rejected Him, Jesus still took every opportunity to do good to them.
He noticed this man=s pitiful case while Apassing by.@ Jesus did not have to go out of His way to find chances to minister. He saw need wherever He was.
We=re moving too fast when we outrun opportunities to be kind. We should take every occasion available to do good wherever we are. Let=s bless others as we are Apassing by.@
John 9:2 His disciples questioned Him. ARabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?@
The Twelve, products of their times, assumed this man=s suffering could be traced to a definite sin. They felt the only question concerned whose sin it was.
To them, this disease was an opportunity for theological debate. Idly curious, they merely desired to have their intellectual faculties stimulated.
This man would have been considered especially guilty of hideous sins because, being both blind and poor, he was doubly cursed. Poverty, in addition to sickness, was a mark of Divine disfavor.
We may think we have rejected this bias against the poor, but are yet plagued with a similar, recurring prejudice. People still tend to disdain the poor. We battle the delusion that rich people are good, poor people not as good.
We say, AHe was raised of poor but good parents.@ Why Abut@? No one says, Arich but good.@ This thinking lulls the rich into a false sense of security.
We need to deal with our prejudice against the poor. All are equal at the foot of the cross. All have sinned, all need God, all can be saved only in Jesus.
John 9:3a ANeither this man nor his parents sinned,@ Jesus answered.
Christ denied the man=s blindness was caused by anyone=s sin. His blindness was a handicap, not a punishment.
We admit a connection does exist between the guilt of humanity and the pain of humanity. Had there been no sin, there would be no suffering. But moving from this general, overarching truth, and trying to relate specific pains to specific sins is risky.
We may in obvious Acause and effect@ situations decide our own affliction is a punishment, but should usually consider afflictions as trials, as remedial, not punitive. Pain is surgery for the soul, a crucible for character.
John 9:3b AThis came about so that God=s works might be displayed in him.@
Jesus introduced a revolutionary new understanding of suffering, a radical departure from the norm of His day. Not only did He say no particular sin was involved, He also taught the suffering itself may be something good.
Jesus said this man=s affliction came to him to give an opportunity to show what God can do. Suffering is sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, as a means of displaying His power. This beggar=s blindness was not a punishment, but a privilege, given to glorify God.
God is glorified when we demonstrate His compassion to sufferers. By being kind, believers become living billboards of the love God wants to show.
Sin is everywhere: in our selves, families, schools, churches, city, nation, world. It is always accompanied by suffering. If we sit and wring our hands in despair, or close our eyes in indifference, we will be no help to anyone.
Sorrow and sin are God=s clarion call for His followers to be kind. Troubles can be catalysts for spiritual action, can guide our ministry and direct our lives.
We use alarm clocks to rouse us to our jobs each morning. We should let Christ=s alarm clock in our heart rouse us to help when we see hurts.
Jesus viewed suffering and calamity as a platform on which to display God=s love. We need to follow His lead, to be less inquisitive and more active.
Jesus knew this blind man=s illness was an opportunity for service, not a place to settle academic problems. He did not get bogged down in theological cobwebs. He reminds us more important than knowing all about the origin of suffering is knowing how to fight and abolish the misery it causes.
It can be necessary to discuss the origin of an evil or a misfortune in order to understand how to get rid of it. But our main concern should always be not to seek information, but to take steps toward relieving pain. Cure the person first, later discuss what caused the illness.
Being more like the Disciples than our Master, we find our talking about evil and suffering is often simply cold-blooded discussion, analytical to a fault. We too easily exclude Jesus= warmth and compassion from our discussions.
The Disciples saw the blind man as an enigma, a source for philosophical speculation. They wondered how his eyes became blind; Jesus wondered how his eyes could be opened.
They wanted to know the source of the shadow; Jesus wanted to remove the shadow. They were curious; Jesus was compassionate.
We will rarely know for sure how suffering first entered a person=s life. We can offer hypotheses, but while we speculate, let=s devote our energies to helping suffering exit his or her life.
John 9:4a-d (Holman) AWe must do the work of Him who sent Me.@
Jesus felt compelled. He said we Amust@ do the work. Jesus was driven by irresistible impulse, divine constraint was on Him. He felt He had no choice.
A sense of being driven is essential to doing a wonderful work wonderfully. God=s work must be not only hard work, but also hot work, springing from hearts on fire for Jesus. Our whole essence must be thrown into the work.
Jesus had a sense of doing. His answer to the Disciples= speculative question was, we must Ado@ the work. Jesus had higher respect for doing than He had for speculation and theological nitpicking.
Jesus made doing business His business. He ministered at every turn. We too must be busy doing.
It is not enough to talk about work. We must do, straining every nerve, stretching every muscle, and extending every effort, while at the same time bending every knee in prayer.
We must do God=s work even if success is hard to see. Duty is ours, results are God=s. But take heart. The unlikeliest fields are often the most prolific: Mary Magdalene, the dying thief, Saul of Tarsus, the Publican. Be buoyed by knowing God will bless us in our labors for Him.
Repeatedly ask, AWhere can I best please God by serving others today?@ Christianity has no place for a sanctified sponge. We have no right to absorb goodness without sharing it with others. Our business is unselfish service, and the time to serve is now.
A church=s success lies in every member finding his or her ministry and doing it. We all have something to do for Christ which not even an angel could do.
A sense of purpose motivated Jesus and the early believers. They sought to please the Father. We should seek to do the same.
Jesus had a sense of personal importance. He knew He was a Asent@ man. He felt the burden of responsibility. No one else could do it. He had to do it Himself, and give an account to the One who sent Him.
We have the same duty. The Father=s work has to be done. It must be accomplished. We=ve been chosen, and must someday give a report on our progress.
We often look on the difficult task at hand and say AWe can=t,@ but simultaneously a voice within says AWe must.@ The call is unrelenting.
John 9:4e A. . .while it is day. Night is coming when no man can work.@
Jesus had a sense of urgency. ANight is coming.@ Jesus knew He would not be on Earth forever. He had to accomplish certain tasks before He departed.
AToo much to do and too little time to do it@ causes some to give up, but Jesus viewed it as motivation. Every one only has so much time. We work under the burden of knowing things must be done in a crowded, definite space.
When our Master tied us to duty He tied us also to time. Let=s accomplish all we can while we can. A sundial in Glasgow is inscribed with a wise motto: ATake thought of time before time is ended.@ Dr. Samuel Johnson had Athe night cometh@ engraved on the dial of his watch.
ANight is coming.@ For this world, compulsory inactivity is before us. We cannot delay it. Avoidance is impossible.
One of life=s sad tragedies will be to discover it is too late to do something we could have done. Let AWhile it is day@ ring like a bell in our ears. While it is our day, while it is their day (too many will die lost before they are reached).
John 9:5 AAs long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.@
Jesus had a strong sense of compassion. His main business in the world was to enlighten it. Christ=s cure of this blind man symbolized His ability and desire to cure a spiritually blind world.
Miracles displayed God=s might in Jesus. But never be so awed by the power that we forget they also demonstrate Jesus= intense compassion.
Jesus was saying the blind, physical and spiritual, are under His special watch care. They are His special parishioners, His personal concern.
The self-righteous can fend for themselves, but self-acknowledged sinners belong to Jesus. The feast of God=s bounty is for them.
Jesus was driven by what He was inside, and by what He saw outside B passion within; need without. If we saw a boat accident, we would be driven to help rescue the perishing. Jesus was so sensitive that He saw Aships wrecking@ everywhere He went.
Christ could see this world quivering over the pit, but we tend to be de-sensitized. To lessen our pain, we erect barriers to seeing pain. We try to touch not, taste not, see not, and hear not, but suffering is still there.
The easiest thing to do with people=s hurts is to know little about them. The surest way to escape unselfishness is to close our eyes.
We are able to display spiritual color blindness, never seeing sorrow, need, sickness, or adversity. We tend to look on the bright side of life by glancing away from all that is wretched.
We need to imitate our Lord. Jesus built no inner barriers to ward off pain. He could see, did see, and it broke His heart.
May His business become ours. Claim the hungry and poor as ours, may the friendless find family here, let the children come. Unbelievers may disdain our theology and rhetoric, but find it hard to disparage a church that imitates the Lord=s compassion.
A word to unbelievers. We pastors challenge our people to be earnest because of love for God, and also for you. Do you not think it strange that we care about your soul, but you are lax about it?
If a dozen women were trying to snatch a baby from a car=s path while the mother looked on passively, we would readily say something was wrong here. Are you careless about your soul? If so, something is wrong, but Jesus can make it right.