Things have been tough in Asia recently. As if the situation weren’t bad enough after the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, a major quake occurred in Myanmar last Thursday. One can only imagine the suffering that many people are experiencing.
I haven’t yet heard anyone say that these earthquakes are God’s punishment on Asia, but I suspect that some people will make this conclusion. Remember how quickly people suggested that Hurricane Katrina (2006) was God’s judgment on New Orleans and its depravity? Remember how some in the Christian community said that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were a result of America’s moral failings?
Jesus’ words in John 9 should make us very cautious about connecting instances of human suffering with specific sins. This chapter contains the account of Jesus’ healing of a man born blind. The whole account is fascinating, but for our purposes today, verses 1–3 are most critical:
As [Jesus] 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’” (NIV).
Suffering was and is sometimes the result of sin (Galatians 6:7–8), but not always. The assumption in biblical times, as it sometimes is in our time, was that all affliction was brought on by a person’s own wrongdoing or that of someone connected to him. Jesus tells us that in the case of the man born blind, his blindness wasn’t anyone’s fault. Instead, the man had been born blind so that “the work of God might be displayed in his life.” The rest of the account reveals that God’s work was displayed in this man’s life.
We should keep in mind that only God knows the exact reason for many instances of human suffering. It is true that all suffering is ultimately the result of the presence of sin in the world, and one day, when God removes all sin from the world and redeems the creation itself, there will be no more suffering (Romans 8:22–23; Revelation 21:1–4). Until that day, though, let us pray for those who suffer, specifically that God’s work will be displayed in their lives. We can do this no matter how God would answer the question “Why?”
— Beau Stanley