We can ask, “Who sinned?” Or we can ask, “Where can God’s works be revealed?”
A mosquito is in the path of a hungry lizard. The lizard eats it. It’s painful for the mosquito, obviously. But nothing evil has happened. That’s just the way nature works. A warthog is in the path of a hungry lion. The lion eats it. It’s painful for the warthog, obviously. But nothing evil has happened. That’s just the way nature works. A gazelle is in the path of a hungry lion. The lion eats it. Gazelles are pretty, and I feel more sympathetic toward pretty animals than ugly animals. Still, the fact remains that nothing evil has happened. That’s just the way nature works.
A seagull is in the path of a hurricane at sea. The hurricane destroys it. It’s painful for the seagull, obviously. But nothing evil has happened. That’s just the way nature works. A town is in the path of a hurricane. The hurricane destroys it. It’s painful for the people of the town, obviously. But nothing evil has happened. That’s just the way nature works.
I don’t believe in “natural evil” because the forces of nature don’t do things that are evil, they just operate the way forces of nature operate. Sometimes the results happen to be painful for a person, and sometimes the results are pleasurable for a person. Still, there isn’t anything morally evil or morally good about the forces of nature. They are what they are and they do what they do.
Of course I feel sympathetic toward the pain of the people who happened to be in the path of the hurricane. But does that mean that the hurricane has done something evil? No, it’s just the way nature works. Does that mean that God has done something evil? No, it’s just the way nature works. Does that mean that the people have done something evil? No, it’s just the way nature works.
The same thing is true for someone who happens to be in the path of a nasty virus or bacteria or cancer cell. It’s painful for the person, obviously. But nothing evil has happened. It’s just the way nature works.
When the disciples see the man born blind, they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.”
I’m giving the disciples the benefit of the doubt here, since it may very well be that this is an innocent question. They may simply want to know what explanation Jesus can give them for this man’s blindness, and it’s a fair question. A good question, even.
The other possibility, though, is that the question may come from baser motives, a desire to condemn someone else’s sin, because it gives them a sense of superiority since they’re not blind. This seems to be what’s happening with the Pharisees.
When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, there are two different approaches we can take. One is “Who sinned?” The other is “Where can God’s works be revealed?”
If you take the “who sinned?” approach, you immediately look for other people’s sins. The thing is, if you look for other people’s sins, you will always find them. Humanity is full of an endless supply of sinful behavior. Even the most righteous specimens of humanity have sins that you can point out. This is an extremely common approach. Whether or not someone uses a theological term such as “sin” people’s conversations very often turn to what’s wrong with other people. What’s wrong with the way they raise their kids, what’s wrong with the way they spend their money, what’s wrong with the way they work, the way they speak, the way they eat, the way they worship, the way they work, the way they live, the list is endless. Even if you happen to be right in your assessment of the sins of others, the more time you spend looking for people’s sins, the more it makes around you miserable, and it makes you miserable.
The other approach when dealing with a difficult situation is, “Where can God’s works be revealed?” If you like, you can use the slightly shorter version that’s popular in EfM: “Where is God in this?” This is the approach that Jesus takes. His disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answers, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Now, if you happen to be the second Person of the Holy Trinity, you’ve got some options of things that you can do that ordinary people might not be able to do. Granted. But even if you and I can’t do everything that Jesus can do, we can do something good. We can do something kind. We can do something compassionate. And you never know when God might use your act of kindness to perform the small miracle someone else needs.
Even if the difficult situation is your own, rather than someone else’s, you can still take the approach of looking for where God’s works can be revealed. In a painful loss, is God revealing to you how to let go of what is temporary while holding on to what is forever? In a situation in which Plan A didn’t work, is God revealing to you that there is also a Plan B? When you come face to face with your own sin, is God revealing to you God’s boundless grace and mercy? When you are suffering, has God provided a person who has shown you kindness? Even when everything isn’t perfect, do you still have things to thank God for?
The more you look for the ways in which God’s works can be revealed, the more you see them.
The more you look for people’s sins, the more you see them, and the more you are blind to the ways God’s works are revealed. This is what happens with the Pharisees. Jesus heals the man born blind, and the Pharisees don’t say, “Wow! Cool!” They don’t say, “Awesome!” They don’t say, “Praise God!” They say, “It is the sabbath, and if someone healed on the Sabbath, he is a sinner.” Since all they are looking for is who sinned, they are blind to the ways God’s works are revealed.
The man who was healed can see how God’s works have been revealed. He even points this out to the Pharisees. He says, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
So how do the Pharisees respond now? They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. They can only see sin now. They have completely lost their ability to see the works of God revealed.
But for the healed man, once he has begun to see the works of God revealed, he keeps seeing more and more. Jesus hears that the Pharisees had driven him out, and Jesus goes to find him. Jesus asks him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” The Pharisees looked at Jesus and saw a sinner. This man looks at Jesus and sees the works of God revealed. So this man says, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
I do not believe in “natural evil”. I believe the forces of nature are just forces of nature, and they do what they do. These temporary, mortal lives we’re in now include both loss and gain, both pain and pleasure, both birth and death. I also believe in the sovereignty of God, that God is in charge in the grand scheme of things, and that God is always at work. I believe that God’s works are always being revealed. I believe in sin too, of course, there’s no shortage of that. But my hope for my life is not that I look for sin. My hope for my life is that I look for God’s works being revealed, in joyful times and in tough times, because I believe that God’s works are always being revealed. I don’t want to be blind to that. I want to see it. I want to believe in it. I want to celebrate it, now during this temporary mortal life, and forever throughout eternity.