Physical suffering is constant. If you are not suffering right now, then you probably know someone who is.
Not only is suffering painful, it is also perplexing. Everyone has at some point tried to figure out why suffering has come upon them and/or someone they know. To make matters worse, some of the wrong conclusions drawn only add to the suffering. We find one such occurrence in John 9:1-3, which says, “As he [Jesus] 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.”
In seeing suffering, even Jesus’ disciples thought in terms much like unbiblical karma. In karma, if you are suffering it must be because of your sinning. In this instance, they saw only two possible options. Either he was a wicked man, or he came from a wicked family.
In some cultures in which the ideology of karma is strongly held, there is little compassion for those who suffer, so efforts to alleviate suffering are discouraged for fear of hindering someone’s repayment of their karmic debt. In the Old Testament story of Job, his “friends” share this flawed mindset and keep pressing the suffering man to confess his sin even though the book opens declaring him to be “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil…”
Rather than sin being the only possible cause for his suffering, there are at least six possible reasons for the blind man’s misery in John.
- He sinned and was reaping in the form of suffering what he had sown in sinning. If this were the case, the right course of action would be to kindly encourage him to repent. But, since he had been blind since birth it’s hard to imagine that he did anything that caused a life of punishment. Jesus says this is not the cause.
- His family sinned in some way and brought this suffering upon him. Perhaps this was spiritual and a consequence for being an evil family, Or, perhaps his parents did something sinful to cause his suffering (e.g. a mother who was abusing drugs or alcohol while pregnant). Jesus says this is not the cause.
- He lives in a fallen world where everything is broken and everyone suffers. There is often no direct cause and effect relationship between sinning and suffering. Sometimes awful people live healthy long lives and wonderful people live painful short lives. This is at least partly to blame for his state.
- He suffered demonic attack. There are many times in the Bible where Jesus or His apostles see someone healed once demonic forces harming them are removed. This is not stated regarding this man, but was a possibility that the religious leaders ignored.
- He was a victim of sin. Perhaps some wrongdoing was done to him in his mother’s womb, or at the time of his birth, that took his sight. Again, the religious leaders did not consider this possibility and lacked any compassion.
- His misery was a mystery. Oftentimes, we have no clear answer to why one person is enduring a particular suffering. Again, the religious leaders had to come to some conclusion and could not live with admitting that they likely did not know what was happening with this man.
The point of the story is that suffering people are sometimes wrongly judged and not given the compassion that would be appropriate.
How about you? Are you in a season of suffering? Who do you know that is suffering and how can you be more helpful to them?