There can be no doubt that the Lord of the universe must permit all that happens, or he is not God. But Jesus’ answer seems to indicate that he caused this man’s blindness, through no fault of the man or his family. Fortunately, the NIV translation is not the only option. The word translated “so that” can also be rendered “with the result that” (Bruce 782, Morris 477, cf. Brown 371). As a result, his answer can be translated, “this happened with the result that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Herschel Hobbs suggests yet another possibility. The punctuation marks in the Greek text were placed there by editors; the originals had no punctuation except the question mark. So Hobbs rearranges the punctuation of the verse to read, “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents. But that the works of God should be made manifest in him, we must work the works of him that sent me . . .” (Hobbs, Invitation 58).
I do not understand Jesus’ statement to teach that God created this man’s blindness. He permitted it, as a consequence of the natural, fallen world in which we live. When mankind fell, all of creation was affected by the fall (cf. Romans 8.22). Blindness, birth defects, cancer, and other diseases are often the result of our fallen world, not our fallen actions. So it was here.
But the Lord would redeem this suffering for his glory and the man’s good: “the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Jesus came to do the “work of God” (cf. Matthew 12.28, Mark 2.7). The healing to come is a miracle to us, but it is merely the “work” of God, his normal activity and ability (cf. Morris 479).
Jesus turned the disciples’ speculative question into practical truth. He did not tell them why the man was blind, but what God intended to do about his blindness. He did not explain the source of the pain, but its solution. In the hardest places of life, his answer is what we need.
Are you hurting along with the blind man? Are you or others asking why? Sometimes knowing the cause is important to the cure, especially if your suffering is the result of sin which must now be confessed to be cleansed (1 John 1.8-9). But often our speculative questions cannot give practical help. Knowing why the Columbia tragedy occurred will prevent future disasters, but it will not bring the Columbia astronauts back.
So we should focus on the practical. Now that we are in this place of suffering, what are we to do? How will God help us? How would he use us to help someone else? Jesus redeemed this man’s blindness by displaying his own miraculous glory, and then by leading the man to spiritual sight as well (v. 38: “the man said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him”). He will redeem our pain for his glory and our good. And he will use us to do the same for those we can help.
On the brick piles of suffering, we don’t often need to know why the bricks are there. Just how to remove them from our lives.
Become Jesus’ hands (vs. 4-7)
Now you and I join our story: “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me” (John 9.4a). Note two words: “we must.” All of Jesus’ followers must “do the work of him who sent” our Lord. We are engaged in the same ministry which brought him to our planet. We are now the presence of Christ on earth, his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5.20). How do we become Jesus’ hands?
With urgency: “Night is coming, when no man can work” (v. 4b). The King James renders this phrase, “Night cometh,” the origin of the Park Cities Baptist Church (Dallas, TX) clock tower inscription. Night was coming for Jesus: “I am with you for only a short time, and then I go to the one who sent me” (John 7.33). It is coming for us as well. None of us is promised tomorrow. We have only today to join Jesus at work.
When the night comes, “no man can work” (cf. John 11.9-10, 12.35-36). One day will be the last day. One hour will be the last hour. The “night cometh,” and all work is done. Love your Lord by loving your neighbor, with urgency.
In his power: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). The New Testament repeatedly testifies that Jesus is the spiritual light of a world darkened by sin: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1.4-5); “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1.9); “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (John 8.12). His ministry fulfilled the prophet’s prediction, through whom God said, “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49.6).
He is the light—we are his reflection: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4.6). Jesus called us: “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5.14). We are to reflect his light as the moon does the sun’s rays.
We cannot heal blind eyes, of course. But Jesus can. And so we share his power, his love, his hope. Peter said to the man crippled from birth, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3.6). We pray for the one in pain. We share God’s word with the one who needs hope. We bring God’s love to the one in despair. We become Jesus’ hands, in his power.