Redeeming the Blind
Years ago my grandfather built an orphanage in a country that I will leave unnamed. This was a particularly interesting orphanage because it was only for blind children.
For many in that culture, children born blind are considered a curse. Some are treated no better than pets. They walk on a leash with their father to his job site. They are tied to a tree while he works all day. They sit in the hot sun. Their tiny minds cannot comprehend why they are rejected, abused, neglected, and unloved, all because of something over which they had no control. At the close of the day they are escorted home, where they are tied up until morning, and then begin the dreadful routine again.
And those are the lives of children whose parents care about them!
Others are dropped off on the street and abandoned, as sometimes happens to infants in developed countries who may not have any physical challenges. Simply dumped outside of hospitals or churches. Or, worse yet, left in dumpsters! Thanks to this orphanage, though, some of these blind children in that country now have a home in which they are treated kindly and get the opportunity to learn about Jesus.
The dilemma of those born blind, whether in the first century or the twenty-first, helps us better understand the fascinating story about Jesus and the man blind from birth we read about in John 9. It is not an easy story, however, and when I first encountered it I found it very troubling.
A Hard Answer
The outline of the story is well known to most Bible students. Jesus and His disciples come across a man blind from birth. Jesus performs a miracle: He heals the one blind from birth, giving him sight for the first time in his life. It is easy to focus on the steadfast blindness of the Pharisees. They were more concerned about the fact that the miracle was performed on the Sabbath than that one suffering person was made whole.
The aspect of the story that troubled me, though, was encountered in the first few verses. After coming upon the blind man, most likely begging at a street corner—abused, neglected, unloved, rejected both by society and by family—Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus the question their culture had taught them to ask—“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
In first-century Judaism, as among some Christians today, the natural inclination was to view conditions such as blindness as the direct result of sin. In the broadest sense, of course, all human suffering is the result of sin, but not as an expression of God’s vengeance or punishment. That’s not what the disciples had in mind, though. They believed it was possible to tie specific bodily conditions to specific mistakes.
As troubling as the implications of the disciples’ question were, it was Jesus’ answer that initially disturbed me. “ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ ” (verse 3).
What? Are you kidding me? The first time I read Jesus’ answer I was frustrated, irritated, confused. I prayed, Jesus, this man was born blind so You could show the world that You are able to make the blind man see? This man was unloved, rejected, and abused just so You could work a miracle? He sat in that very spot, dried and crusted saliva on his face, hurtful words stinging his soul, so that You would walk by with Your disciples and display Your works? What kind of love is that?
A Deeper Perspective
Only years later, after I had studied more and lived longer, did I come to understand better the implications of Jesus’ answer. And the answer, at least in part, is found in the book of Revelation’s description of Jesus as “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
How could Jesus’ identity as the future Savior of the human race be linked to the circumstances of one blind man in first-century Judea? I think these amazing words of Ellen White help us understand: “Before the foundations of the earth were laid, the Father and the Son had united in a covenant to redeem man if he should be overcome by Satan. They had clasped Their hands in a solemn pledge that Christ should become the surety for the human race.”*
The central point of both Jesus’ title in Revelation 13 and the insight offered by Ellen White is the same: before the creation of the world, it was God’s plan that Christ Jesus would come here, take upon Himself our humanity, then offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins in order that we could have eternal life in Him. The gospel wasn’t an afterthought; it was the center of the eternal covenant in the Godhead from before the foundation of the world. In the event that we as human beings would choose sin, we could yet be redeemed through the death of Jesus on the cross.
The Man Blind From Birth
How does this amazing truth connect with the story of John 9? I believe that the blind man that Jesus and His disciples stumbled upon that day was not in place so that Jesus could show off His healing skills. Nor was that poor soul purposely born into darkness, spat upon, and ridiculed so that Jesus could impress His followers with His miraculous power. No—he was there so that he could know Jesus. He was there because, before the creation of the world, Jesus had committed to save him. He was there so that even while dying on the cross, Jesus could know that the man He healed of blindness could spend an eternity with Him.
We are all, in one sense, like that blind man. He wasn’t able to see the present, but all of us are similarly blind when it comes to seeing the future. Are we not just as helpless in the vortex of forces beyond our control as he was? The future is unsure, unpredictable; we can’t see around the nearest corner, much less what tomorrow will bring. Often we have no sense of direction, and, in our desperation, cry out for insight and clarity. Trapped in deadening routine, we wait on the street corners of our lives for something other than our customary darkness.
Could it be that, from before the creation of the earth, God looked into your life, saw what sin would do to you, and knew that the only way for you to accept His grace fully was for you to experience the “blindness” of the man in John 9? Only then, fully convinced of your condition, would you realize your utter helplessness. And only then would you learn to reach out for the only One who can save us, who can give us “sight,” who can offer us the same hope and promise He offered that blind man?
The blind man wasn’t fated to be blind, or to suffer blindness as a punishment. His circumstances, painful as they were, were intended to be relieved by the grace and power of Jesus, and for that to happen, it was necessary for him to be on a specific street corner at a specific hour. He was there so that he could know Jesus. He was there because, before the creation of the world, Jesus had committed to save him. God did not author the man’s blindness, but He did authorize the blind man’s salvation.
When we struggle, when we fear, when we are in need, we can know that from before the creation of the world, it was in the mind of Jesus to save us. He purposed that His works “should be made manifest” (John 9:3, KJV) in us—and His greatest work is the promise of redemption we have been given in Him.
I’m grateful for my grandfather’s orphanage, and for lives of hope and promise those blind children can now experience. I’m even more grateful for the knowledge that Jesus is still enacting His eternal plan to save me and make me whole, even as He did for a man who had once been blind, but now could see.
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 834.