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Blind To The Suffering Around Us

Andy Yung

John 9:1-41 NIV

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. As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)

Answering The Question On Suffering

Jesus and his disciples met a blind man and his disciples asked whether the blindness was attributed to the sins of the blind man or his parents. It was not a question asked on behalf of the blind man but out of their own curiosity.

If it was the blind man who had asked Jesus, it would have been interesting to know how Jesus would have answered him. This is a difficult question to answer. How does a parent reply if his/her child ask why they were born a certain way? I’ll be stuck for an answer if my daughters ask me this question.

Have we asked similar questions about suffering? Have we wondered why we’ve missed the genetic lottery and aren’t born with the looks, IQ or health advantages that others have? Have we complained about being born in the wrong household or country? Have we wondered why bad things happen to good people?

Each of us have our own handicaps. We may have grumbled about the unfairness that besets us, but we’ve also learnt after a while that our questions change nothing. There is no simple answer that can satisfy everyone, and this article does not attempt to answer it either.

Jesus replied to his disciples that the blind man’s condition was not his or his parents’ fault. His answer directly replied their query, but it didn’t solve their implicit question, “Why is this man suffering?” Instead, Jesus focused on teaching them something far more important… do something about it, now.

Jesus talked about how “we must do the work of Him who sent me” while it is “day”, i.e., while we’re still around on this world. We can’t do so anymore when “night” comes, i.e., when we’re dead. Jesus used the “day” and “night” as a metaphor to emphasise the short life we have on earth, and our need to do something about the sufferings around us, now.

Instead of wasting time ruminating over why there are suffering and unfairness in the world, we should be out there making a difference. Some people love to ponder existential questions, as though philosophical discussions make them intellectuals, or show that they care. But those who are really smart and truly concerned will put their brains and energy to doing something.

Jesus is the “light of the world”. As his disciples, we are called to bring his light to the people around us. We may not have his miraculous power to heal, but we can have his love for people. Let’s be spurred by his love to impact the physically and spiritually needy. People can feel and see God’s love through our actions.

There may never be a satisfactory answer to the philosophical question on suffering, but we can be part of a practical answer that is far more useful — we can roll up our sleeves and do something about it.

Blind To The Problem of Suffering

While the disciples saw the man’s blindness and thought that it was due to some sin, they failed to see this as an opportunity to do God’s work. The man was physically blind, but the disciples were spiritually blind.

When some Pharisees learnt that the blind man was healed, they were upset that Jesus had healed on a Sabbath instead of feeling happy for the man. They too accused the formerly blind man of being steep in sin from birth (John 9:13-34). The Pharisees were good at judging others but showed no mercy to help others back on their feet.

In a separate incident, after some Jews told Jesus that Pilate had massacred a group of Galileans, Jesus replied that these Galileans weren’t killed because they were terrible people. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:2-3)

It is no surprise that Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees and these Jews attributed suffering to some terrible sin. This was a common misconception of that time, and even for some people now. Jesus saw beyond the physical tragedy to warn of a bigger spiritual disaster that awaits us — eternal condemnation. That’s why he called for people to repent.

We must not be blind to those who are physically suffering, and we must be aware of those who are spiritually suffering too. Jesus actively served both. Are we blind to the problem of suffering?

Jesus answers to these existential questions on suffering brought his disciples back to what’s far more important, having a heart for the less fortunate. Let’s pray for our eyes to open up to the physical and spiritual suffering around us so that we cab bring the light of Jesus to the world.

Andy Yung

Andy is the head of compliance for an international bank and is happily married, with three daughters. He became a disciple of Christ three decades ago, and studies God's Word passionately. He desires to be constantly led by the Spirit. Andy joined the Central Christian Church in 1990.

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