Greetings, friends! Thanks for reading this week’s devotional!
Among this week’s lectionary offerings, a small section from the Gospel of John stood out to me:
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
Reading this passage, I’m reminded of how much we need to feel in control. We want to believe that if we do “a, b, and c,” then “x, y, and z” are guaranteed to happen. We want to believe that if we are just wise enough, careful enough, hard-working enough, virtuous enough, faithful enough...something enough, then good things are guaranteed to come our way. For that to be true, our world needs to be predictable. Everything needs to have a clear cause, especially those things that feel hard, unfair, or scary.
In hard times, some find a clear cause in the failures of others. Why is this happening? It’s his fault, her fault, their fault: that country, that group of leaders, that generation. If they had just acted differently, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s far more comfortable to focus on judgment and blame of others than to face our fears head-on.
Enter the disciples of Jesus. They see a man born blind. That seems unfair. They want it to make sense. Consequently, they look for someone to blame: either the man or his parents. One of them must have sinned, they think. This is a consequence of human foolishness. It’s a punishment of God. Believing this, they can feel in control. If we don’t sin like those folks, they reason, such hardships won’t happen to us.
Other folks don’t look to the faults of others to explain hardships; they look to the mysterious providence of God. This is God's doing, a part of some greater plan, they reason. They can rest easy, believing that even if they don’t have control, God does; God will make sure everything works out in the end.
At first glance, Jesus seems to fall into the God’s plan camp. “This has happened that the works of God might be revealed in him,” Jesus says. We might infer that Jesus is saying, “God did this. God made this man blind for some greater purpose. Trust that.” Maybe Jesus is saying this.
Of course, Jesus might be saying something else entirely. Rather than answering the question, “Why has this happened?”, Jesus might be suggesting a different one. Jesus might be inviting listeners to consider, “How should we respond to the circumstances of our lives, both the good and the bad? How might this man use his circumstances to serve God?” And, by extension, “How might we use ours to do the same?”
I’m reminded of a scene from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:
Bemoaning a terrible turn of events in the world, Frodo, the halfling protagonist, says, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
“So do I,” said Gadalf, his older, wiser companion, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Here we are in the midst of the Coronavirus. Our lives have been thrown into disarray. To varying degrees, we’re afraid.
We can focus on causes. We can focus on trying to make what’s happening make sense. Or we can focus on the one thing over which we truly have control: our response to the “time that is given us.”
Rather than asking, “Why is this happening?”, each of us might be better served by asking, "How might I accomplish the works of God in these circumstances?” How might I comfort others? How might I show my family even more patience, affection, and attention? How might I encourage my colleagues? How might I support my students? On social media, how might I focus on all the blessings still in the world and, thereby, move others to do the same? How might I guide others toward faith, goodness, and trust? What might I say and do to be a light shining in this dark time?” I can’t imagine time better spent.
This week, I’ll be praying that we all find a way to shine our light that the loving, life-giving works of God might be accomplished.