Sin, Suffering, and the Glory Filter
Last Sunday we finished reading John chapter 8. Much of the chapter consists of debating what took place between Jesus and the religious leaders. There were 2 key statements Jesus made that set off a whole line of trial-like questioning from the religious leaders. The first was “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12) and the second “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32) The religious leaders for a while now, since Jesus’s last visit to Jerusalem, had been seeking to kill Him. (John 5:18) And throughout chapter 8 many of their questions were an attempt to make Jesus say something that, in their minds, would excuse them to kill Him. And finally, they got it- the question and answer time ended when Jesus made a third statement “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” and the religious leaders recognized this statement as a declaration of Jesus claiming to be God- blasphemy- and therefore immediately felt justified to put Jesus to death. The Mosaic law backed them up on this, as Lev. 24:16a states: “…the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him…”
But, because Jesus really was (and is) God, He had the power to escape their evil plans- verse 59 says that He “hid Himself and went out of the temple.” And so somewhere outside of the Temple courtyards, moving in a direction away from the religious leaders- as verse 1 of chapter 9 states- He and His disciples passed by a man who had been blind since birth. More than likely, this man was begging for money, and probably telling everyone his story of being blind since birth in order to pull at the people’s heart strings. Now the disciples must have felt they had lost the guys with rocks in their hands that were chasing them, and perhaps they were beginning to realize there was soon coming a day when Jesus wouldn’t escape the religious leaders’ hands. So they seized the moment and asked Jesus a really deep question concerning suffering and sin. We see in verse 2 they asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
Now this is a form of a question that surely many have considered in their minds since the beginning of time. Since the fall of mankind, when sin entered the world, there has ever since existed consequences for sin. And most of the world would agree on the natural consequences of sin, like if you commit crimes, you will probably end up with the consequence of a fine, a revoked privilege, or time in jail. If you eat too much you’ll probably gain unwanted weight. If you sleep around, you’ll probably end up getting an STD. If you lie to a friend, you will lose that friend’s trust. These are all natural consequences that occur as a natural result of certain decisions. But this isn’t what the disciples were referring to in their question. They weren’t referring to natural consequences, but rather supernatural, God-caused consequences. They saw God as a punisher, causing suffering in the lives of those who messed up in life. And this isn’t a mentality that just those living in Jesus’s day had, many today view God in a similar fashion. After someone admits or suggests doing something wrong, how many times have you heard someone say- or you yourself say- “I better move away before lightning strikes”? The idea we have is that God is going to punish and cause suffering (via lightning in this case) in the lives of those who do bad things.
It seems that this concept went even deeper for those living in Jesus’s day than it does for people today- the disciples were stating that if the blindness didn’t result from the parent’s sin, then it must have resulted from sins the man committed. Now if the man was the one who committed the sin and was thus punished by being born blind- when would he have committed the sin? The only answer would be that he must have sinned while in the womb, as a baby in his mother’s belly, before he was born. Now that’s a little extreme, right? Perhaps some have made the case that the disciples thought: since God knows the future, God would have known the sins the man would commit in his lifetime, and thus God was pre-punishing the man for sins he was going to commit- but this idea sounds really far fetched and inconsistent with what we know of the character of God. It’s much more logical to assume the disciples understood that sin nature is inherited even at the moment of conception, and that they imagined in their mind that the baby could have committed some sin from within the womb.
This still might sound “a little out there” to our ears, but we do have scriptural support that definitely alludes to the possibility of a baby in a womb reacting, in good ways and in bad ways. Luke 1:41 says that “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb.” The baby was John the Baptist, and the verse seems to indicate that even from the womb He leaped for joy when he heard the greeting from Jesus’s mother, Mary. In contrast, Genesis 25:22 describes the negative behavior of the twins Jacob and Esau when they were in their mother Rebekah’s womb- it says they “struggled together”- they were fighting- and that fighting continued even after they were born.
In the disciples’ minds, according to their belief framework- they understood 1.) individual sins correspond with appropriate God given individual consequences 2.) Suffering in life was an obvious God-given-consequence and 3.) These consequences were given by God sometimes to the individual who committed the sin, and sometimes to the children of the individual who committed the sin. So, with this framework in mind, you can see the depth of the question the disciples were asking. If the parent’s sin didn’t cause the blindness, then what kind of a sin could a baby in a womb possibly commit in order to deserve blindness from birth? This, I believe, was their real question. Their question was a “Jesus- does this really sound fair?” question, a “Is this suffering really justified?” question. And how Jesus answered, probably blew their minds- verse 3.
Jesus hit their belief framework dead on and demolished it to pieces. His answer showed them that suffering in life is not necessarily a God given consequence for an individual’s sin or a parent’s sin. He wasn’t saying that the man and his parents had never sinned, we know for certain that they, like everyone else born on Earth, (excluding Jesus) were born with sin programmed into their DNA and had fallen short of God’s standard of perfection. We do know that there are consequences for sin- the whole world, including plants and animals, were corrupted when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God. There were indeed natural consequences that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin, but also God given supernatural, spiritual consequences that took place as well. And we know that one day there will be judgment, punishment, consequences for those whose sins aren’t forgiven by God. So, there is definitely a correlation between sin and consequences, but what I believe Jesus is telling us here is that we are not able to see and judge for ourselves the exact correlation. In this case of the blind man, his suffering was not directly related to a specific sin, but his suffering was so that “the works of God might be displayed in him.” It was for God to be glorified as a result of his blindness.
If the disciples had really thought about it, they would have remembered the message of the book of Job. All of Job’s friends accused him of sin, and blamed his sin as being the reason behind his suffering. But in the end they saw that Job’s suffering was not a direct result of individual sins he had committed, but rather it was the means through which God was bringing glory to His name. Through his painful experience Job learns of God’s glory, his friends learn of God’s glory, and millions more who read the book of Job learn of God’s glory.
Somehow, we have to adopt the perspective that life is all about God’s glory. The good things that happen to us need to glorify God, the bad things that happen to us need to glorify God. Our time at work, our time at home, our time with friends, the decisions we make, the way we “do church,” our knowledge and our lack of knowledge- all need to glorify God. Whether we are healed or not, whether we live or die, whether it appears that we succeed or fail- all has to be understood within the framework that we are to glorify God. Everything that comes our way- the good and the bad- needs to be processed through the filter of “God can be glorified through this.” Sometimes though, we wrongfully attempt to determine ourselves how God should be glorified. We mistakenly assume that we know the best outcomes to life’s scenarios, we think we have it figured out as to what needs to happen in life in order for God to get the most glory.
Lord, if you would just bless my finances then I could give more money to You and to Your purposes. Lord, if you would just heal this person miraculously then everyone will know your power and their lives will be changed as a result. Lord, if you would just do this and change that, and bring about this, then You would bring so much honor to your name.
How long had this man been suffering in his blindness? Ever since he was born! He was now a grown man. I wonder if along the way his parents had ever thought- Lord, please just heal our son so that he could bring more glory to you. You’d receive glory from the miracle, you‘d receive glory from a life giving you praise for new sight, if he could just see he could be more active in serving You… But God had a different glory path that He was orchestrating, one that no one would have ever possibly imagined.
How many of you use a water filter at home? All the water that you put into the filter passes through and comes out on the other side of the filter. Perhaps the water that is going into the filter happens to be already super clean, or maybe it’s really dirty, containing lead and other contaminants. Either way- clean or unclean- it all passes through the same, and comes out on the other side of the filter as clean, drinkable, glorious water. We need this same kind of filter in our lives- I call it the “glory filter.” No matter if we have clean, great blessings that come our way, or yucky life experiences- it all should pass through the glory filter and come out as producing clean glory for God. There’s a certain amount of surrender that has to take place in order to live life wearing the glory filter. One has to keep at the forefront of the mind Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” The glory filter requires you to follow Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” and his words from Colossians 3:23-24 “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Whether good or bad comes your way, all has to be received humbly and pass through the glory filter.
Job understood this as well, undoubtedly more so than any of us, in Job 1:21b he says: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And again in Job 2:10 "...Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Job had an amazingly strong glory filter and understood that God wanted to be honored and glorified in him, no matter how life turned out.
When good things occur, we need to give glory to God, admitting we don’t even deserve for Him to bless us with His goodness. When He chooses to bless us, there must be a way in which He wants to glorify Himself through His blessing. And when bad things occur, we need to give glory to God, knowing that He loves us, and humbly admitting that we don’t understand all the ways of God. When bad things come our way, there must be a way in which we can still bring glory to God. Through our attitude, through our perseverance, through trusting in Him, through seeking to learn from Him, through the testimony we will give on the other side of the tough season.
Now in Jesus stating that the man’s blindness was not a result of him sinning, nor his parents, but so that the works of God might be displayed in him- Jesus was saying that consequences and suffering are not always linked directly to specific sins. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t still sometimes send a consequence or some suffering due to a specific sin. There might be times still when sin causes not only a natural consequence, but also causes a God given, supernatural consequence. Moses experienced this after his sin of anger and disobedience, when God did not permit him to enter into the promised land. (Deut. 32:51-52) And God gave King David specific consequences that corresponded with David’s specific sins of adultery, betrayal, and murder. God told David his punishment was that evil would be raised up against him from within his own household, that his wives would be taken from him and another man would sleep with them in a public display, and that the child born to him in adultery would be taken away. (2 Samuel 12:11-14)
We even have an example in the New Testament, in Acts 5 (Acts 5:1-11) when Ananias and Sapphira lied about the offering they were giving, God gave them the consequence of death.
I give these Biblical examples so that we would each be very careful in the examination of our hearts as we seek answers to questions regarding consequences and suffering. You might be suffering as a result of nothing you have done, or… you might be suffering under natural consequences for the decisions you have made, or… you might be suffering under natural consequences and supernatural consequences from result of sin. If you are a follower of Jesus, you especially might receive reprimand from the Lord if you are living in sin. The writer of Hebrews confirms this, quoting from Proverbs (3:12) he states in Hebrews 12:6 “FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES." Again, it’s all about God’s glory- God still wants to receive glory when you are experiencing consequences resulting from sin. His desire is that He would be glorified by you repenting and returning to a right relationship with him.
We each need to examine the strength and coverage of our glory filter. Are there holes in the filter that are allowing good circumstances to pass through to you without you glorifying God? Or are there holes in the filter through which bad circumstances are passing through without you allowing them to glorify God? Allow the glory filter to process everything that comes your way. Or perhaps there are some listening today that are reaping negative consequences in their life as a result of unrepentance. Repair the holes in your glory filter, bring honor and glory to God by repenting, and choosing to change today. Let’s bow our heads and examine our hearts before the Lord.