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When Bad Things Happen

John 9:1-4 - "As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 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. 4 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." Romans 8:28-29 - "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son....."

Background

"His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (v2). At first glance, this question sounds strange. If the man was blind from birth, how could his blindness possibly be the result of his own sin? People don't sin before birth. Well, believe it or not, the idea of an unborn child sinning in the womb does appear in some rabbinical writings. From the disciples' perspective, it was not such a strange question.

The idea that the man could be born blind because of his parents' sin came from a misinterpretation of the Old Testament Law, which said that the iniquity of the fathers would be visited upon the children "to the third and fourth generation" (Exodus 20:5 & 34:7). That statement was not intended to mean that a child's physical problem was the result of a specific sin committed by the parents or grandparents. No, God was teaching us that sin ripples out to affect entire families. For example, a broken marriage often has far-reaching effects, even for generations.

In the case of the blind man, Jesus specifically told his disciples that no one had sinned, and no one made a bad or improper decision. God had allowed the man to be born blind so that His glory could be displayed in the miracle of healing. And Jesus did just that!

Doctrinal / Teaching Point

1. When bad things happen to "good" people, God is still in control.

Thirty years ago, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book entitled When Bad Things Happen To Good People. Rabbi Kushner wanted to dispel the incorrect idea that whenever something bad happens to a person, God is punishing that person for a sin that was committed. That certainly isn't true! In John 9, Jesus emphatically told His disciples that no one did anything wrong to cause the man's blindness. Similarly, we know that the tragic events that occurred in Job's life were not the result of his sins or wrong decisions (Job 1:1).

Unfortunately, Rabbi Kushner's book wrongly concluded that God is not in complete control of what happens in this world. He concluded that God can't prevent bad things or tragic events from happening, and all God can do in a bad situation is to "pick up the pieces" and bring comfort and peace to the suffering individual.

Christian author Warren Wiersbe wrote a rebuttal to Kushner's book, entitled When Bad Things Happen To God's People. Dr. Wiersbe took the biblical position that when bad things happen, God has not lost control. Even when bad things happen to God's people, God is still on the throne! He's still sovereign! Ephesians 1:11 says, "...He works all things according to the purpose of His will...." "All things" certainly includes all the circumstances and events in the lives of growing Christians!

If ever there was a time when tragic circumstances seemed to be out of God's control, that time was the final week of the earthly life of our Lord. Consider the unfair trial of the Man who was completely innocent. Think of the physical abuse of the One who had harmed no one. Reflect on the cruel and "untimely" death of the Person who was always involved in helping and healing. Was this situation beyond God's control? No! The events of that week were completely controlled by God. In fact, those events had been planned and ordained in eternity past, in the eternal counsels of God.

From our human point of view, the events in our lives may appear at times to be "random" and even "accidental." From God's point of view, however, the events of our lives are never out of His control, and they are never out of His plan for our lives.

2. In all things, God is working for our good.

Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose." Notice that Romans 8:28 does not say that all things are good. "Bad things" do happen in the lives of God's people. A man being born blind was not "good." Painful events in our lives are not good. We live in a fallen world, and we all suffer from the consequences of Adam and Eve's disobedience and rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden. The penalty for that sin fell upon all mankind: hard labor, frustration, pain, and ultimately death (Genesis 3:17-19). But Romans 8:28 tells us that even in these things, God is at work in our lives to accomplish His good plans for us.

In the "tragic" events of the final week of the Lord's earthly life, God's greatness and glory were wonderfully displayed. He demonstrated His amazing love for us and accomplished His great work of salvation. Now if God so planned and controlled those seemingly chaotic and unfair events in our Lord's life, we can be sure that the events in our lives are never out of His control. He will work together all the events, both "good" and "bad," to accomplish His good plans for our lives.

Practical Application

1. Focus on showing the greatness of God.

We will encounter many different situations in life that we regard as "bad" - the loss of a job, a serious illness, a baby born with a disability, the death of a loved one. At times like these, it's natural to wonder why an awful thing has happened. It's natural to question if someone is at fault. Like the disciples, we may even wonder if someone sinned.

By contrast, Jesus focused on how the blind man's difficult situation presented an opportunity to do the work of God and reveal His glory to others! Our focus should be the same as the Lord's focus. Instead of questioning God about why a painful event happened, let's focus on how we can bring attention to God's greatness. Let's consider how His glory can be displayed in our lives through our difficult circumstances. We can follow no better example than the example of our Lord when He faced His betrayal and crucifixion. In Gethsemane, He acknowledged the coming grief and pain, but nevertheless He resolutely set His mind toward doing the work of His Father and accomplishing the great work of our salvation.

2. Remember that the time is short!

Immediately after Jesus told the disciples that the man had been born blind so that the work of God could be displayed in his life, He urged them to "do the work of God" while they had the opportunity (v4). In essence, Jesus was saying, "Don't spend your time questioning why a tragic event happened. Consider how to do His work and display His greatness!"

We believers have a limited time here on this earth before going to Heaven. In Matthew 5, Jesus said that we are the light of the world, just as He said "I am the Light of the world" in John 9. We don't have forever to let our light shine here on earth. Some of us - maybe all of us - will realize too late that we didn't take advantage of the time and opportunities the Lord gave. So let's remember that Jesus told us "the night is coming when it will be too late to work." Let's remember that the time is short!
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