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We Were Not Made in Vain

The ninth chapter of John describes a scene from the life of Jesus and one that was all too common. I wrote about it just a little bit last Monday (God’s Losers and Gainers) but want to return to it today. Let me set the scene. Jesus is walking from one place to another somewhere in the city of Jerusalem and passes by a man who has been blind from birth. During his ministry Jesus encountered hundreds of blind people and countless others who were lame or deaf or otherwise suffering from the effects of the Fall. We read endless examples of his sovereignty in healing these people, in touching them or spitting upon them or in simply commanding that the disability leave them

John 9 is just a little bit different. As he walks by this man, his disciples ask a question. “Rabbi,” they ask, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The disciples assume that this man’s blindness is a punishment that has been justly given him as a curse for his sin or perhaps for the sin of his parents. Somehow they just know that some action has necessitated this punishment. Jesus shocks them by answering, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In other words, he says “Neither—he was born this way so that God’s works should be shown in him.”

As I looked into this passage I came across Matthew Henry’s commentary on it. Henry does just an amazing job of showing what God was teaching here, what he wasn’t teaching here, and how it matters to you and me.

[Sufferings] are sometimes intended purely for the glory of God, and the manifesting of his works. God has a sovereignty over all his creatures and an exclusive right in them, and may make them serviceable to his glory in such a way as he thinks fit, in doing or suffering; and if God be glorified, either by us or in us, we were not made in vain. This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him.

Henry says here that God makes people serviceable to his glory and that he does so in the way he thinks fit. He may let us serve him in our actions or in our suffering. Regardless, as long as God can be glorified in us, then our lives are not in vain and our suffering is not in vain. No situation is useless or hopeless or irredeemable if God uses it to glorify himself. This man was born blind and suffered with blindness for a long time so that God could make himself known through him.

That is, First, That the attributes of God might be made manifest in him: his justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities; his ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction, especially that his extraordinary power and goodness might be manifested in curing him. Note, The difficulties of providence, otherwise unaccountable, may be resolved into this—God intends in them to show himself, to declare his glory, to make himself to be taken notice of.

God uses all situations, including suffering, to allow us to glimpse his attributes. In this blind man we see the justice of God in allowing sinful men to become subject to pain and calamity; we see the goodness of God in taking mercy on him; and we see the sovereign power of God in restoring him. According to Henry, all suffering comes down to this—God intends to show himself, to declare his glory, to make us take notice of him. So this is the key to suffering: God uses it to show us himself!

Those who [do not regard God] in the ordinary course of things are sometimes alarmed by things extraordinary. How contentedly then may a good man be a loser in his comforts, while he is sure that thereby God will be one way or other a gainer in his glory!

This is an interesting statement and one that requires a bit of reflection (at least in my case). People who are not accustomed to seeing God in ordinary, every day life tend to be alarmed when God works in extraordinary ways. And I suppose it is true that if we do not expect God to work in ordinary ways, neither will we expect him to work in extraordinary ways.

The next line is one that has really been stirring my heart (and it was the subject of last week’s article). “How contentedly then may a good man be a loser in his comforts, while he is sure that thereby God will be one way or other a gainer in his glory” If we understand that God will receive glory, we may then have great contentment even in suffering, knowing that our discomfort serves as higher purpose. We do well to ask, Am I willing to be a loser in my comfort so that God can be a gainer in his glory?” Every Christian should be willing to cry, “Yes!”

Secondly, That the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so.

Looking back we can now see why this man was born blind. And, in fact, we get a glimpse of why sin exists at all. In all these things the might of God, the character of God, the glory of God will be made manifest.

I think Christians tend to look for immediate answers, to want to find the reason for our suffering, not in the big picture but in the details. So we tend to say, “I am suffering because God wants to address this particular issue in me” or “I am going through this situation because God wants me to grow in this one area.” And yet here is what Henry says about this:

The intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.

The sentences are lengthy and sometimes you will need to read a long while before you can understand them. In other words, be careful about assuming that you know the fine details of why you are suffering. It may well be that God is accomplishing secondary purposes through this trial. Primarily God intends to glorify himself, but maybe he seeks to do that through drawing out some of your sin or breaking down your pride. But do not be too quick to assume that you know exactly what he is seeking to accomplish. It may take 5 or 10 years or even a lifetime to read to the end of the sentence and only with that kind of perspective will you be able to make sense of it all.

But in the meantime, we are to endure, we are to remain fixed upon God, and we are to be willing and more than willing to be losers in order that God may be the gainer. And somehow through all of this he will make his glory known through us, even as he made his glory known through this blind man 2,000 years ago.