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Adam did it. When God confronted him, Adam nervously blurted, "Eve made me eat that fruit." Well, Eve didn't want to take the fall, either. She blamed the snake.
This is the Bible's way of describing our instinct to dodge guilt by laying blame. Find a scapegoat, we think. When we do not want to face the music, all too often we point fingers.
Since we do not want to take the fall, the fall keeps taking us, which is why even kids are naturals at the old dodge-and-point.
"Dad, Johnny hit me."
"I did not. And, besides, she hit me first."
What's a parent to do? What's God to do?
Sometimes we point fingers to dodge responsibility, but sometimes we point fingers to explain what we do not understand.
A prominent televangelist caused quite an understandable stir last fall. Just after the September 11 bombings, this minister, in his own words, "point[ed] the finger" at pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, lesbians, the ACLU, and People for the American Way. These folks, he argued, forced God to lift divine protection from our nation.
Now, God has led me to a respectful theological disagreement with this pastor. But still, I place his comments within human brackets. Faced with tragedy and confusion, most of us are quick to assign blame. This instinct becomes most dangerous, however, if we point religious fingers, if we sign God's name to our personal grievances.
Jesus understood that we religious folks do this sometimes, and today's Gospel gives us some idea what Jesus thought about this habit of ours and, more importantly, what he did about it. Jesus bumped into a man born blind. In those days religious people assumed that blindness must come from God. If you were born blind, people wondered whom to blame, whose fault it was. Had you sinned or had your parents? It must be someone's fault. Even the disciples thought this way.
Jesus was ready for them. He always is. He answers quickly, sharply. "Neither," he says. "Nope. Nada. No." Jesus simply refused to help them lay blame.
You see, God does not will human pain in order to punish us.
Just before my dad retired as pastor of a Texas congregation, one of his church members experienced a string of tragedies. In 11 short months, she lost her father, her mother, and her husband. She said to my dad, "People say God doesn't send us more than we can handle. I just wish God didn't hold me in such high esteem."
God doesn't send us more than we can handle.
Of all the simple sayings of the Christian faith, I most wish we could reconsider this one. It suggests that God intentionally sends us hardships, tragedy. I do not believe God does this. I do not believe that God killed the father and mother and husband of my dad's friend merely to test her. Instead, I believe God promised that, though bad things happen, God will not abandon us.
You are probably wondering right now, and rightly so, that if God doesn't will human pain, why then does God allow it?
As usual, Jesus is ahead of us. Immediately after he says that no one is to blame for this man's blindness, he adds that the man was born blind "so that God's works might be revealed in him." What Jesus means is that God is going to use this seemingly random meeting with the blind man. You see, God is in the regular busyness of bringing good things from bad things. Jesus knows that he is about to heal this man, and everyone who sees it will have a solid sign of who Jesus is and why he has come to us.
In other words, his blindness is not this man's fault and nor is it God's will. Yet God can bring good from even this apparently senseless tragedy. God did not cause this blindness, but God can work amidst this blindness, and that is why I would change the saying that God doesn't send us more than we can handle.
Would it be better to say instead, "With God's help, there is nothing we cannot handle"?
Nothing we cannot handle. Broken bones or broken spirits or broken hearts. Car wrecks or suicides or cancer. With God's help, there's nothing we cannot handle.
Perhaps you've seen the movie or read the book entitled "Alive." They tell the true story of a Latin American soccer team whose airplane crashed high in the Andean Mountains. That soccer team spent an entire winter in the bitter cold given up as lost by the search parties. Several of them survived.
In the movie "Alive-20 Years Later," the survivors of that awful winter remember and they tell the story of how they lived. One observation leapt out at me. A survivor noted that not a single survivor ever sat down to write a letter home. Every person who wrote a letter or kept a journal with the intention of sharing it with his family died. At whatever level of consciousness, those who chose to write home were choosing to give up and to die. Isn't it amazing how much we can bear if we consciously choose to?
With God's help, there is nothing we cannot bear.
Doug Huneke is a Presbyterian minister, my mentor and my friend. In his book "The Stones Will Cry Out," he ponders how human beings deal with tragedy. He suggests that the best question amidst tragedy is not
Whose fault is it?
Why did God do this to me?
Who will we be? How shall we love and do justice [amidst tragedy]?
How shall we hang on and trust?
How will we confront life's tragedies as people of faith?
John is my favorite Gospel. I love John's use of metaphors, how a story can be understood on multiple levels and all at the same time. And I love, especially, John's use of light as a metaphor. John excites me for both reasons in this particular passage.
You can read the rest of the story in your own Bibles in John's 9th chapter. This man sees again and comes even, if slowly, to some understanding of who Jesus truly is. Yet there's more to understand, because we, too, can be blind to Christ. And no matter who is to blame for our blindness, still Christ comes to us always again and again, showing himself in order to heal our spiritual blindness.
And when we know Christ, believing is seeing. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, we "see the light." To be cured of blindness is to be empowered to see the light. That's an archetype for us Christians-seeing the light. To see the light is to bolt from darkness and to be bathed in the light of Christ.
As the old hymn puts it,
I was once lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Amazing grace indeed!
Christ is still at it, you know, curing our blindness, shining upon us, transforming us for lives of new vision and bold faithfulness. Everything around us is changed. We see the world differently now. What used to be fuzzy is clear. God's intentions for us and for the world are coming into ever clearer focus. It's as if God has given us new eyeglasses, new spectacles. Now we see the world through spiritual lenses.
Christians are people learning to see the world as God sees it, full of the possibilities of grace.
My brother is also a minister. Told that he was farsighted, he asked his optometrist exactly what that meant.
"Well, technically, the optometrist replied, "it means that you focus on infinity."
My brother thought, "That's a pretty good habit for a preacher."
That's a pretty good habit for all of us. We can focus on infinity only because God in Christ has cured our blindness.
There's an undeniable connection, then, between being cured of blindness and seeing the light. And this light image is helpful, isn't it? We understand instinctively what it means to compare light and dark, brightness and black. In northern climates, doctors warn against Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It's a painfully accurate acronym. It means that deprived of sunshine, we tend to become depressed.
Light is good. Light helps us to live faithfully, happily. Little wonder, then, that the metaphor of light is used throughout the Bible. It's in today's epistle reading from Ephesians. Recall those words:
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.
Did you catch that? Not only is Christ shining upon you. You have-in some strange, wonderful, divine way-you have become light. Christ removes the scales from our eyes and fills us with his light. That's how Ephesians can encourage us to live as the very "children of light."
And if Christ's light shines not only upon us but somehow through us, too, well, that changes everything. Because if the light is shining through us from even within us, surely we cannot cast shadows upon others. It's only when we block the light that we cast others into darkness.
It's an old Protestant conviction that Scripture interprets Scripture. Maybe today's Gospel and Epistle lections are paired for a purpose-to remind us that our Christian faith at its best isn't so much about casting aspersions as it is about casting light.
Let's be like Jesus. He wasn't much interested in pointing fingers at our past. Rather, Jesus shines the light on our futures.
Let us pray.
Holy Christ, thank you for your light. Make it shine from within us that we might become bright beacons of hope in this world of shadows. Amen.
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