Suffering. It’s all around us. You see it on the faces of people you pass at the grocery store, see it in the stories posted on the news and social media, and see the pain it causes in the lives of those you know and love. We live in a broken world, but it can be hard to make sense of all the pain and suffering we see and experience. How can a good, loving Father allow us to go through hard times? As born-again believers, shouldn’t we be free from the ravages of a sinful world? If God is truly sovereign, why does He allow us to walk through suffering?
These are legitimate questions that I believe all of us will ask at some point in our lives. I have friends walking through cancer diagnoses for their little ones or are bedridden because of illness and disease ravaging their bodies. When we see or experience that level of pain, we can’t help but ask “Why God?!”
I’ve had different bouts with health issues over the years due to an undiagnosed autoimmune disease. Recently, my body tail-spinned into a bad flare that has left me fatigued, hurting, and miserable. At the same time, I’ve seen and watched friends and acquaintances of mine go through the most difficult times of their lives. So this topic of suffering has been heavy on my mind and heart.
While I’ve learned over the years to rely fully upon God through times like these because I truly believe that God’s got the situation and me fully in His loving hands, it can be hard to know how to convey that level of trust and faith to others going through the hardest thing they’ve ever faced. But then God brought John 9 to mind and reminded me of a little gem He showed me several years ago. A small, often overlooked verse that answers those deep, heart-felt questions of “why?” So let’s look at it and pay special attention to the last verse.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”
The setting was Jesus with his disciples. Probably a normal day, or as normal as any day with Jesus went. The disciples were walking with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem and passed by a man who was blind. Not an unusual occurrence in that day and age. The man was probably begging, as that was the only way he could survive. The disciples may have never commented on this man, however, they knew some of his story and that he had been born blind. So they decided to ask Jesus a question. A question of who sinned to cause this birth defect, because back then it was generally believed that someone’s suffering was directly caused by someone’s sin. But in this case the man had been blind since birth, so who would have sinned?
Jesus’ answer is astounding. It probably shocked His disciples because it completely debunked what the Pharisees taught about sin and suffering. And it amazes me because it puts a whole new spin on why God allows suffering. Let’s read Jesus’ response: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Did you catch what Jesus was saying?! The whole reason why this man had been blind for decades was for God’s glory to be displayed in him. The answer to the “why” is for that very moment in history, the moment when Jesus would walk by and heal him.
I wonder how many times this poor man had wondered “Why me?” “Why was I born blind?” Or maybe he felt condemned because of the ruling belief of the day that said you must have been a very sinful person to deal with a chronic condition like blindness. What a miserable feeling that must have been!
But now Jesus is saying that the whole purpose for the pain, the whole reason why this man had been born blind, was for God’s work to be displayed or magnified in him. The Greek word for display literally means “to render apparent, appear, manifestly declare, manifest.” That’s powerful!
No wonder this man was so excited after his healing! He not only was freed from a life of blindness but he was also vindicated and told that it wasn’t his sin or the sins of his parents that caused his blindness. It was God’s purpose for his life. He was destined for this moment, and it was his blindness that allowed God to be gloried. It was because he was blind that Jesus was able to work a miracle.
Sometimes God’s plan for our life includes suffering. Why, because He’s cynical and enjoys watching us battle with health problems? No! But because it is through our brokenness that He is magnified. What would happen if we reframed the way we view our pain? Instead of thinking of it as a trial to be endured, what if we look at it as an opportunity for God to be gloried—an opportunity that God destined us for?
It may seem crazy. But if we go back and look at the story of the man born blind, we must wrestle with the fact that his blindness was given to him so that Jesus might be gloried. We want to glorify God, right? We want to see God do the impossible, don’t we? So let’s accept the pain He lovingly allows into our lives and give Him the opportunity to bring glory to Himself through it. Let’s give Him room to take our brokenness and bring beauty and restoration. Let’s give God space to do a miracle in the midst of our suffering.
Therefore, the next time you go through something hard, something that you’re not sure if you can survive or get through, remember that little verse from John 9 and realign your focus. Remember that God’s plan for your life can sometimes seem confusing, but at the end of the day, it’s all for His glory. Let suffering be God’s magnifier and watch and see how God will change your life and the lives of those around you. Because there is nothing our God can’t do…if we let Him.
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