Read John 9:1-3.
Does Suffering Prove God Does Not Exist?
Jesus passes by a man blind from birth and his disciples ask, “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness, his own sin, or his parent’s sin?”
They’re asking about the reason for suffering. That’s an age old question, one that’s often used by atheists to try to disprove God. They say that a good omnipotent omniscient God would prevent all evil, therefore if evil exists a good omnipotent omniscient God cannot exist. That sounds logical, at least on the surface. But within the first part of the argument lies a problem. One has to ask, might a good and omniscient God have good reasons for allowing evil and suffering? If, by definition, God is omniscient, wouldn’t we expect Him to treat us in ways we don’t understand? After all, none of us even begins to approach omniscience.
Suffering As An Illusion
Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Mary Baker Eddy’s cult of Christian Science simply deny the existence of evil. They say it’s an illusion. To the mom or dad who lost a child they would say, “You might feel bad now, but your loss is not really a bad thing.”
Suffering Without Meaning
The atheistic view says God doesn’t exist so there is no meaning to evil and suffering. To the people mourning at a funeral they would say, “You might feel bad now, but there was really no point to her suffering, and there was really no point to her life either for that matter.”
The suffering is an illusion and the suffering is without meaning worldviews don’t match my own experience with evil and suffering. And if you’re experiencing evil or suffering right now, they probably don’t line up with yours either.
The God Of The Bible And Suffering
Unlike the first two worldviews, God, the Father of Jesus, is distinct from, and in opposition to evil. He is even distinct from the universe as a whole. He’s outside of the space-time continuum. Also, if you think about it, a world without evil would mean a world without free will. The God of the Bible, the God who’s distinct from and in opposition to evil seems intent on ensuring our free will. Might He have a good reason for wanting us to have the freedom to make bad choices? And finally, might there be sound moral reasons for allowing suffering for a greater good? C.S. Lewis has said that visiting your dentist may make you miserable but that doesn’t make your dentist a sadist.
And then there’s heaven. If eternal heaven is part of the picture, that changes everything.
If you’re experiencing suffering or evil right now, there may not be any answer that satisfies you. But the Hindu, Buddhist, and atheistic views say that evil and suffering are senseless and purposeless. God may allow evil and suffering, but the alternative views are worse, especially when you’re in pain, because those views don’t offer any significant meaning. (see previous post He touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched)
What The Rabbis Taught About Birth Defects
In Jesus’ day the Rabbis taught that birth defects could be caused by the sin of a baby still in the womb, or by the sin of the baby’s parents. It’s interesting to note that Jesus never directly denies this teaching. Today we know from medical science that the sin of a baby’s parents can cause birth defects in a baby. A pregnant woman’s alcoholism or drug addiction can cause birth defects. A baby who’s born while his or her mother has an active STD can be born blind.
Jesus’ Direct Answer
In the case of the man blind from birth in our text, Jesus answers his disciples’ question directly.
“It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
God will be glorified as a result of this man being born into blindness, as we’ll see in our next post from the book of John.
So the disciples presented Jesus with a false dichotomy. They asked him which one of two possibilities was the reason for the man’s blindness. But it wasn’t an either-or situation. Jesus’ answer is outside of the options presented by his disciples. Jesus said the man was born blind so the works of God could be displayed in him.
I have a friend who counsels people going through trials. Trials as in terminal cancer and other serious tragedies. We’re living between Eden and Heaven, he says, and it’s going to hurt. Trials and suffering will come for everybody. He says the people who do worst in those situations are the ones who ask, “Why me?”
He says the ones who do best are those who ask, “What can I do to best glorify God in this situation?” He wrote a book about it. You can check it out here if you’re interested: Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question) A Godly View of Suffering
I hope you’re not experiencing suffering right now, but if you are, can I encourage you to ask yourself that question at every opportunity?
Like the blind man in our story, maybe you’re suffering because Jesus wants the works of God to be displayed in you.
If you’re struggling as you walk through this difficult time, as my friend suggested, you might find it helpful to look for ways to glorify God in the midst of your trial.
What have you got to lose?
(You might also like God’s IQ)
References and Resources:
Jim Davis, Why Me? (And Why That’s the Wrong Question) A Godly View of Suffering, Leafwood, 2014
[“A Blind Man” image via Wikimedia Commons.]