A sermon preached
Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-11
As he went 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?
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus,
”but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
This seems to show clearly that Jesus
did not make a link between sin and physical disability.
1. Jn 5:14 Jesus healing
the lame man by the Pool of Bethesda says
“Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you”
2:3-12 Jesus tells the lame man that
his sins are forgiven.
When challenged about his ability to do this, he tells the man to walk –
the 2 seem to go together.
It seems that Jesus and those who wrote the Gospels –
assumed this sort of link on occasions - though clearly not always.
That may in part simply reflect their acceptance of a 1st century World View.
Clearly there are cases where sin and sickness and disease go together
Misuse of alcohol and drugs may cause serious illness or death
Malnutrition, deaths from water-borne diseases
and deaths from AIDS in the developing world
are largely the result of the selfishness and greed of the rich world.
Violence and evil may result in psychological problems
Sin does result in sickness and death.
But these examples show how sin militates against health and wholeness
they do not show God intervening
with thunderbolts and illness to punish evil doers.
If we go down that theological line, we end up in all kinds of trouble.
Are we really saying that all those who were injured
in the Tsunami,
that all those in the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital today,
are reaping the calculated consequences of their sin
on some kind of divine judicial calculation?
Surely not -
(a) because that seems to fly in the face of what we know –
bad things do happen to good people and vice versa.
(b) because such a doctrine –
even if it were backed up by our experience of the world –
would fly in the face of the core of the Gospel –
that in Christ sinners are forgiven,
not made to suffer proportionately for their sins.
of the most helpful books I have read in a long time is entitled
“In the beginning there was darkness” by John Hull,
a blind theologian from Birmingham University.
He quotes a couple of conversations he has had -– (pp.50-51)
1. He describes attending a Religious
Conference in the USA
and standing outside a restaurant waiting to go in to eat.
A man came up to him and asked him if he was part of the theological conference.
Yes, said John Hull. And are you blind? Yes, he replied.
At that the man let out a loud laugh and said –
you better not be attending the conference,
or you won’t be able to believe your own stuff”
Having floored me with this witty piece of logic,
he and his party went into the restaurant laughing.
2. Then he describes a conversation with a
Birmingham taxi driver.
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?….
What did you do that God made you blind?”
John Hull replied “Nothing more than most people do, who don’t become blind”
“Well, maybe you were going to do something bad”
“you mean God would have known about something in advance
and made me blind to stop me doing it?” “Yes”
“Well I don’t particularly remember planning a bank robbery or anything like that”
There the conversation ended.
John Hull says how even today
many people still link blindness with God’s judgement.
And he comments -
”Of course it is perfectly true that some kinds of sinning can ruin your health.
But to attribute sin to every sick person is to add a burden of social disapproval and guilt
to a person who is already suffering.
I suppose I should have had the quickness to say to the man outside the restaurant,
“And what great act of holiness did you do, to make you so healthy?”
We need to understand that what Jesus is concerned
is not physical blindness – but spiritual blindness.
Indeed the end of the story (Jn
9:40-41) makes the irony clear -
the Pharisees have physical sight but spiritually they are blind.
In the anecdote outside the restaurant, who is
It is the raucous unfeeling man who is blind,
not the sensitive physically blind theologian.
Let me quote once more from John Hull’s book (pp. 46-8)
received a letter from a man called Mr Morris,
suggesting that a certain Rev Scothern could heal him of his blindness.
The letter suggested that John Hull should arrange a service
and invite all those such as himself who were needy or “inflicted” –
especially those who were blind, deaf or in pain.
Mr Scothern would be able to heal them –
or could send miracle prayer cloths which when applied would restore sight.
In part of his reply (p47), John Hull writes:
I do not interpret my blindness as an affliction,
but as a strange, dark and mysterious gift from God.
Indeed, in many ways it is a gift I would rather not have been given
and one that I would not wish my friends or children to have.
Nevertheless it is a kind of gift…
I am a Christian like yourself.
My Christian life has been deepened since I lost my sight.
This loss has helped me think through many of the values in living,
and in a way I have learnt a greater degree of intimacy with God.
Your letter distressed me because it showed so little sensitivity
to the actual condition of blind people,
and no awareness at all of the emotions and beliefs of Christian blind people.
You assume that everyone wants to be like you, a sighted person,
and you do not recognize that people are called into various states of life,
some of which they would perhaps rather not have had,
but they grow in faith and realize that whether sighted or blind
they are in the hands of a merciful God…”
Let us thank God for such gifts of sight and health that we have.
Let us seek to bring physical comfort and healing wherever we can
At the same time,
Let us thank God as best we can for the dark gifts of suffering and difficulty
which may also be offered back to God for his use.
Let us pray to God that
whatever our physical condition,
we may know God’s healing touch
that we may have
that spiritual sight and discernment
as a result of which
we can know and do his will
”in sickness or in health”