Why Bad Things Happen

John 9: 1-5 (Lent Three – 2014)

“Why Bad Things Happen”

It does not take much these days to stumble upon troubling news and find our hearts aching over bad things that happen to us; the people around us; or even multitudes of people we don not know. Have you paused more than once to wonder about a missing jet liner and the people in it?

Jesus once again sees a teachable moment. He addresses an issue that has come across many hearts. He addresses a question that has landed in many pastor’s offices and counselor’s sessions. Why do bad things happen to good people? We might even ask, “Why do bad things happen to God’s people?” Jesus uses the teachable moment which leads to as very busy day and lengthy story. Jesus does perform the miracle of giving the blind man sight. Jesus also uses the event to teach the difference between spiritual blindness and sight. He uses the event to reveal God’s glory and to urge us to join with him in sharing God’s light.


To Show God’s Glory

The disciples asked a question: “who sinned to deserve this?”Their question betrays a popular false assumption about God when bad things happen to people: God must be punishing me/ them. When the disciples saw this blind man they assumed that he, or someone else, was being punished directly for a sinful action. It is natural for us to think that way too. Our inborn fear of God sees him only as a righteous judge doling out sentences against every little crime. We imagine that he somehow micro-manages the morality of this sinful world by daily making the punishments fit the crimes. Our guilty conscience views God apart from his mercy and – rightfully so – knows that we deserve only his wrath and punishment.

Jesus changes their thinking: “This happened that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus reveals the God of mercy in his answer. God certainly is a God of justice and does carry out his wrath for sin. That wrath is not carried out by daily punitive damage control each time we sin. His wrath over sin is carried out on his Son who bore all sins for us. “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53: 5) Because God made him to be sin for us, he also made him the one atoning sin offering for the entire world of sinners. God’s justice has been satisfied already in Jesus – true God and true man – by his sufferings and sacrificial death. On the cross Jesus is our substitute.

            Still we are left wondering – why do bad things happen? Jesus explains that a God of mercy uses the struggles of a fallen world to display the work of his caring hands. In this case, the blind man received his sight so that others could see the miraculous power of God’s Son and be led to believe in him as the Messiah. His blindness – which appeared to be a sad and troubling thing - God used for the spiritual benefit of those who witnessed his life-changing event. At the same time he was able to once again reveal himself as the Son of God who had come into the world to save sinners.

If I were to send around a piece of paper and ask you to list two or three events in your lives that began as frightful, troubling memories you would most likely begin a top-ten list … (pause to think). Tragedy; illness; damaged relationships; personal thorns; private struggles with temptation; these are all circumstance for our Lord to display his power and glory among our troubled lives. “When we are weak he is strong” (2 Corinthians 12: 10). When we are humbled to cling to him for help He is glorified.

            As you think about those very troubling circumstances, think about the ways in which God drew a great number of people to prayer, to the circle of believers now made visible through sufferings, and to hear the sharing of Word of God and the promises of the gospel. That is what happens in hospital rooms, living rooms filled with bad news, offices of Christian counselors, and the many gatherings of God-fearing people who are seeking to resolve difficult conflicts with the Scriptures as their source of wisdom. Jesus is teaching us to see the glory of God in our own personal lives.


To Share God’s Light

What happened next in this gospel lesson is just as revealing. The Pharisees demonstrated a spiritual blindness. At the close of the story Jesus tells them: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” The temple officials dragged this man in for questioning. They were upset that his story drew so much attention to Jesus. They wanted to be sure to snuff out this news. The Gospel, as usual, drew instant opposition! The news of Jesus met opposition. The enemies of Jesus drew closer to the plans of getting rid of Jesus and those who followed him. They had already planned to ban those who followed him from temple worship.

            Their plans backfired, however. The man gave a clear witness to his new discipleship. “I was blind but now I see.” He knew that physically was true. But he also realized that it was spiritually true. He once was living in spiritual blindness. Now he was seeing by faith that Jesus was the Son of God and his Savior from sin. He even encouraged his accusers - the Pharisees - to consider being his disciples as disciples too. How true it is that those who have and know the Gospel love to tell the story of Jesus!

            This man’s true story validates the power of the Gospel. Had we been blessed to witness one of his miracles we might have been impressed with the power of Jesus. What it must have been like to watch known cripples to get up and run through the streets! What it must have been like for this man’s parents to say: “Yes, this is our son who could not see, all his life, and now he can see!” The miracles of Jesus were true displays of his power!

            But a greater miracle occurs every day, and right before our very eyes: the miracle of faith. Jesus is teaching many others to see! When the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is shared by those who know it with those who don’t, the Holy Spirit is giving spiritual sight. When the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is spoken over baptismal fonts around the world, the Spirit is giving spiritual sight to those born spiritually blind. As we gather in his house to hear and learn his Word, as we gather to receive the forgiveness of sins with his body and blood, as teachers teach his Name to little ones, and as we share his love and name with our friends and relatives, the Holy Spirit is opening eyes by giving faith that trusts in Jesus.

            Jesus teaches us to see, spiritually, so that we might share in Light with others. In this lesson, he used a specific struggle to show his Father’s work. He used a teachable moment to open eyes spiritually. This lesson is one more step on his journey to the cross for our sins. This lesson reveals the eagerness of his enemies to plan his death. But it also highlights the validity that He is who he claimed to be: the Son of God. He came to atone for our sins and conquer our fierce enemies: death and the devil’s attacks on his people. In his power over unbelief we look in faith to heaven. One, clear evidence is in the confident confession of faith this man displayed in the face of his new foes. He pointed other to the name of Jesus.

            Jesus teaches us that every day circumstances are chance to “work while it is day.” Our personal battles are where God chooses to display his glorious handy work! Where is the missing jet liner? Why is there so much loss in our midst lately? What anxiety riddles your prayer life these days? What teachable moment has God used or is about to use to remind you of his unconditional love for you in Jesus? What teachable moments will we have to point others to the cross of Jesus? Jesus answers the age old question with honesty and urgency. “Night is coming when no one can work.” Rather than ask why bad things happen, trust that God has made you a project of his daily workshop (Ephesians 2: 10). Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. Rather than ask “why?” in anxiety, he invites us to trust him for his grace. With Paul, we delight (2 Corinthians 12: 10) in those things and strive to see in them his good and gracious will. In doing so he loves to reveal his glory, his grace in Christ Jesus, and through your crosses, reveal his Light of Love to the world. Amen.