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Playing marbles with the world

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topical Scripture: John 9:1-7

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.

God could have created a world in which we had freedom from suffering or freedom from choice, but not both.

All choice requires consequence, or it is not a true choice. If I order a chicken fried steak at lunch but the waiter brings me bran muffins, I will be protected from the indigestion and heart disease which would result from my dietary choice. But I would not be free to choose.

We live in a fallen world where disease and disaster are a consequence of Adam’s sin and our own, where drunk drivers and fanatical terrorists and alcohol abuse are a part of life.

But we also live in a creation which is being redeemed by its Creator. God’s holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes, today and in eternity. He will redeem it for your greatest good, his greatest glory, and our greatest growth. Always.

When you are born blind

Now, how does this theological conversation help you when you’re the one born blind? When you’re the one dealing with a frustrating parent or a rebellious child? When your marriage is struggling or your job is being downsized or your friends are ungodly or your temptations are overwhelming? What do you do?

Jesus “spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes” (v. 6). This was accepted medical practice in the day. Now comes the crucial part: “‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (v. 7).

Jesus asked the man to trust him. Washing in the pool of Siloam was not part of any accepted medical practice. And it required sacrifice on the part of a blind man.

The pool of Siloam was one of the great landmarks in ancient Jerusalem. The reservoir is 53 feet long, 18 feet across, and 19 feet deep, with columns built into the side walls. The problem is that it was on the southern end of Jerusalem, while the Temple area where Jesus and this man were likely talking was on the northern end. Imagine him feeling his way along, at considerable bother and risk, all because a man told him to do so.

This blind man took Jesus at his word. He “went and washed”–the Greek word means not just that he splashed some water on his eyes, but that he bathed them in the pool. With this result: “the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (v. 7). Here we see the divine-human partnership at work. Jesus would heal the man’s eyes, but he would have to wash them first. He did what he could, and Jesus did what he could not.

Here’s my problem: I want to heal my eyes in my way. I want the Great Physician to use accepted medical procedure, to do things in a way I can understand and accept. I want him to meet my needs in my timing and according to my will. I want him to bless my decisions. I want to be God, and I want him to serve me.

Isn’t it hard for self-sufficient people to let Jesus put mud on our eyes? Isn’t it hard to surrender to his will before we know it? To write him a blank check before he fills in the amount? To let him guide us anywhere, before we know where? To go out not knowing? To step before we can see? To put him in charge and let him be God?

Yet that is the essential first step to the power of the Lord. He will not do for us what we try to do for ourselves. And he will not share his glory. When we sell out, surrendering all, giving everything, then he can move in power. He cannot drive the car unless he’s holding the steering wheel. He cannot fly the plane unless he’s the Pilot. He cannot be your Great Physician unless you’re willing to submit as his patient.

Where do you need to make such a surrender to him today? What is your blindness this morning? Where are you in need of Jesus’ mud and Siloam’s water? How do you need God’s help for your friendships, your dating relationships, your finances, your family, your future? Take Jesus at his word. Seek his plan for your life, his next step for your problem, his help for your hurt. Claim this promise in his word:

“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).

Believe that he has a purpose for your problem, a plan to give you hope and a future. Call on him, come and pray to him, and know that he will listen to you. Seek him with all your heart, and you will find him this day.

Have you given him your problem in faith? Have you found his word for your need? His promise for your pain? Are you standing on that word?

His holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes, now and in eternity. You may never understand fully on earth the ways he is using your pain for your good, his glory, and our growth. But you can know that he is, if you will take him at his word today.

Conclusion

I have prepared this message with some particular people in mind. A couple who lost a daughter recently, another who lost an infant boy some months ago, a mother and father whose teenage daughter was killed, another whose adult daughter died far too young. I’ve been thinking about them, wondering what this message would say to them.

I’m thinking today about those of you whose dating relationship is not going well; those who aren’t sure what to do for a friend with a problem; those wondering if you’ll ever be married, or married again. I don’t know all the ways God is using your pain for your good, his glory, and our growth. I don’t even know some of the ways he is doing that for you. But I’m taking him at his word today that he is. I invite you to do the same.

Albert Einstein made the famous statement, “God does not play dice with the universe.” We are not a marble he toys with. He loves you and me individually, personally, beyond description.

So today is the day to take him at his word. To submit to his Spirit, to yield to his purpose, to walk with him in prayer, to know that his holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes. Today is the day to let Jesus put mud on our eyes, however he intends to do so, and wash in whatever pool of Siloam is his will for us.

“As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth” (v. 1). Today that “man” is you. This is the promise of God.