Playing Marbles with the World
Dr. Jim Denison
The alien movie Men In Black ends with the camera pulling back from Earth until our planet fades into the blackness of the universe. We fly back as the Solar System recedes, then the Milky Way. Then the universe itself becomes a black marble. Then two aliens play with that marble, flicking it back and forth. Is that the way it is? Or does God have a plan and a purpose for this fallen planet and our problems and pain?
In our series we have learned that Jesus will turn water into wine, heal a nobleman’s son, and feed 5,000 families. We have learned why we should take God at his word, and what happens when we do.
Now we must ask a hard question: why do we live in a world where such miracles are needed at all? Why does the wine run out in our lives? Why do our children get sick? Why do we get hungry?
As good as it is to know that Jesus can feed the hungry and heal the sick, wouldn’t it be better to live in a world where no families ever faced hunger and no eyes were ever born blind? Wouldn’t that be the better miracle?
The question brings our series to the place where most of us live. Maybe your grandfather lived to an elderly age; mine died as a young man because doctors mismatched his blood after an appendix operation. Maybe your father was healed miraculously of his heart disease; mine wasn’t. Maybe your son or daughter was protected from a tragic accident; I know several in our church family who still grieve for lost children. Maybe your job was preserved, or your financial needs miraculously met; I can name several friends whose families are hurting today.
Why do we live in a world where miracles are needed? Why does God permit people to be born blind? Why does he allow your blindness today? What does he want to do about it this morning?
Why some are born blind
“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?'” (vs. 1-2).
In the ancient world, illness was always a sign of divine judgment. If the man had incurred his blindness as an adult, there would be no question: the sin was his own. Since he was born with it, the disciples wondered whose sin had caused it. But it was a given that all suffering comes from sin. All pain is someone’s fault.
In a sense that’s true. In the Garden of Eden the man would have full eyesight; your children would be well; my father and grandfather would be alive. When mankind fell into sin, the world fell with us. Now we experience diseases and disasters which were not part of God’s created paradise.
And much of our present suffering is our personal fault as well. God gave us freedom of will so we could choose to worship him. When we misuse that freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours. Haman was hanged on the gallows he intended for innocent Mordecai; the men who wanted Daniel thrown to the lions met them instead. Saddam Hussein obviously deserves the fate he has been sentenced to receive.
In the disciples’ theology, all pain is our fault and God is off the hook. Our question is answered. Why must God do miracles in our fallen world rather than make a world which doesn’t need them? Because of our sin.
Except that’s not how Jesus answered the question: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (v. 3). This happened so that God might do his work through this man’s life and suffering. How? In what way?
God works miracles for our greatest good. In this case, so the man could be healed by the divine power of a miracle-working God. His eyesight would always be more precious to him than mine is to me or yours is to you. He would be a character in the divine story of redemption. His life would be immeasurably more significant because he was born blind and healed than if he had never been born blind at all.
Scripture is clear: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). God meets all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). He longs to be gracious to us and rises to show us compassion (Isaiah 30:18). He is a Father, waiting to give us our daily bread. God works miracles for the present good of his children. We may not understand that fact at the time, but his word says that it’s so.
God works miracles for the eternal glory of his Kingdom. He turned the water into wine and “thus revealed his glory” (John 2:11). He fed 5,000 families so they would know that he was their Prophet and King. God’s word says that “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Scripture promises that “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5).
And God works miracles for our greatest growth. Jesus’ opened the man’s physical eyes so he could open the man’s spiritual eyes, with this result: “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him” (v. 38).
He worked this miracle for the spiritual growth of those who observed it as well. The man became my favorite witness in Scripture: “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (v. 25). And all who saw the miracle were confronted with an opportunity to trust the One who worked it.