John 9:1-12 (ESV)
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some said, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 So they said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
Jesus and his disciples walked by a man who was born blind. As they passed him, the disciples wondered why he was born blind. Was it because he sinned, or because his parents sinned? They clearly believed that sickness, disease, and pain were a result of sin. This was known of as the Doctrine of Retribution, which held that if a person sinned, bad things would happen to her, and if a person obeyed God, good things would happen to her. The disciples should have remembered the lesson of Job. Sometimes suffering is not a direct result of sin or wrongdoing, but God allows it to occur for his own good purposes. Suffering is not always the direct result of an individual’s own disobedience. Jesus responded to the disciples’ question: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Then Jesus chose to heal the man. For the first time in his life, he was able to see. Did he know that God allowed him to live his life blind so that Jesus would be glorified as a result of his supernatural healing? Some days, he probably even wondered if his own sin or his own parents’ sin had caused his condition. It is easy to forget that bad things can happen to obedient people and good things can happen to disobedient people.
In one way, all suffering is the result of sin. Had no sin ever entered the world, we would still be living in perfection with no sickness, disease, or pain. Yet, many people suffer greatly as a result of something unrelated to their personal sin. The ultimate example of this is Jesus. He suffered tremendously, not for his own sin, but for the sins of others. Sometimes the Doctrine of Retribution proves true, and other times it doesn’t. We like to think that if we do good, then good will happen to us, and we can live pain-free as long as we do the right thing. It often feels better to believe all is related to the Doctrine of Retribution instead of the sovereignty of God, because it keeps us in control. May the Lord help you to trust his ability to manage the affairs of your life today, rejoicing in all things as long as he is glorified.