As you can see this is the second piece of a five-part essay. If you’d rather read it all at once, you can find it in barneywiget.com
Mother Teresa told of a time when she spoke at a conference on world hunger in Bombay. “I was supposed to go to that meeting and I lost the way. Suddenly I came to that place, and right in front of the door to where hundreds of people were talking about food and hunger, I found a dying man, I took him out and I took him home. He died there. He died of hunger. And the people inside were talking about how in fifteen years we will have so much food, so much this, so much that, and that man died. See the difference?”‘
John 9:1-7 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?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
“Of all the preposterous things nothing exceeds the criticisms of the habits of the poor by the well warmed, well housed, and well fed.” Herman Melville
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Whose fault is this? Who’s to blame? Those are the first things to come to some people’s minds when bad stuff happens to other people. People tend to say things like this when they’d rather philosophize than actually get involved. They’re more interested in diagnosing a problem than dealing with it in some practical way. Job’s delightful diagnostician friends specialized in this sort of analysis. Instead of lightening his load, they added to his burdens by blaming him for everything that happened to him. “You must’ve done something bad to make God so mad at you. It’s obvious that you’ve been bad since bad things only happen to people who do bad things. You should repent and maybe things will get better for you.” Simple. “They’re like theological buzzards,” wrote Oswald Chambers, “sitting on their perch of massive tradition, preening their ruffled feathers and croaking their eloquent platitudes.”
Of course, sociologists and psychologists have to do a certain amount of diagnosis. In order to constructively alleviate human suffering they are trained to identify and analyze its root causes. I don’t know anything about those fields but my guess is that most people didn’t get into them in order to assign blame and leave it at that. They, at least the best of them, see something messed up and they jump into the middle of it to try to bring some order to it. They went to school to learn how to help people, not just blame them.
But those of us who are not interested in or qualified to repair broken psyches or social systems might do well to leave the theorizing to the “experts” and the convicting to the Spirit, and simply do our part to help one person at a time one day at a time.
“Who sinned? Was it he or they or someone else?” Unless the Holy Spirit leads us to delve into such issues in order to point our friends toward shedding a particular toxic behavior, we would probably be more effective by exposing the good news that – even in their suffering – Jesus knows them thoroughly and yet loves them completely.
I don’t deny that rebellion against God is the root cause behind of all human suffering. No doubt, our failure to trust him enough to stay away from the forbidden fruit is the problem and Jesus is the answer to our problem. But when we encounter the suffering of others it’s advisable to leave the diagnosis to God, and if we can do something to alleviate it, we should!
The disciples were steeped in Jewish thinking and new at Jesus thinking, so they delayed the solution with deliberation – “Who sinned? Whose fault is this?” This sort of musing is a favorite Christian delay tactic to avoid any sense of responsibility we might have to help someone in need. We waste lots of time and energy with case studies where we treat victims more like lab rats than like people. We tend to be more concerned about the theological problem than our neighbor’s problem. We set up committees to analyze issues to death and often never get around to doing anything about them.Fortunately Jesus came to solve problems, not study them.
If not analyzing the problems of the world, we Christians are dissecting the particulars of the Word, and never quite get the two (the world and the Word) close enough to each other for the one to impact the other. Jesus spit, said, “We don’t have time for this!” and made the man see.