And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him saying, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?”
I was a bit naïve but, on my first contact with this passage, I thought, “what a silly question.” In the home where I grew up, sin, at least by that name, was not discussed. We were taught right from wrong, but wrong was just what imperfect people did, usually while trying not to. Sin or wrongdoing was never associated with disease.
It should have been.
Sin is the root cause of disease and death. Rarely, however, is it the direct cause of illness. Pneumonia is still caused by bacteria, viruses, and aspiration of foreign matter into the lungs. However, there was a day when either these things did not exist, or they did not cause illness in people. I prefer the latter explanation.
So, what happened? The simplest answer is sin. Given a choice between the Kingdom of God on earth or being as gods themselves, people chose to be as gods. They ate from God’s tree and—voila—wish granted. Gone was the true God’s protective hand.
The new would-be divines were sent out into the world to set up on their own. The first thing you know, their children are killing each other. Cain committed murder, not because the devil made him do it, but because he was envious of his brother and decided that killing him was the best solution.
Just like Adam and Cain, people, trying to be as gods, have been deciding on their own solutions ever since. Nothing has changed in that regard.
James describes the process this way: people, enticed by their own desires are drawn away from choices that hit the divine mark to choose actions that miss the mark. This missing the mark is what Christians call sin. (Strangely enough, the word sin means to miss the mark/target.)
The end result of sin is death, in fulfillment of God’s word that in the day man sinned by rebelling against God and eating of the tree, they would surely die.
God does not send disease, sorrow, and death, they are in the world already because of sin. It is true that God’s gift of free will made sin possible, but without free will man could not choose to love and fellowship with God (which was what we are designed to do).
When my children were growing up, they reached an age where we no longer cleaned their rooms. We set them at liberty to clean their rooms, or not clean their rooms as they saw fit. We did not want three pigsties in the house, but we allowed our children to freely choose how they would live, and three pigsties were what we got.
God did not want disease and death in this world but having given man free will, He allowed it. Blindness was in the world. Neither the man in this story nor his parents did anything to make him be born blind. It happens in a certain number of people and this man drew the short straw.
Yet the thinking of the disciples, like some today, both in and out of churches, was that if you lived right, no bad thing could happen to you. Health, wealth, and good fortune are a sign you are living right and disease is a sign of sinful living.
There are people who still believe that. When a child dies, it is never because we live in a world ripe with disease. But it is because God somehow sent the disease, failed to take direct action to prevent it, or didn’t answer our prayers to heal them. God is therefore to blame or doesn’t exist.
Jesus suggests to his disciples another possibility. Disease and death exist to allow the glory of God to be demonstrated breaking the curse of sin—whether by divine healing or by a life of faith that overcomes tragedy.
We have this life and this world as it is. He that has an ear to hear, let him hear. We can live that life as it comes with or without God. The choice is ours to make—in the midst of my own battles with disease, I choose God.