Glory, not yet

The gospel of John records the healing of a man born blind. It’s a momentous record, not only for the impact it had on that man and his parents, but for the theological impact it has on the followers of Christ.

To get the full impact, you have consider what it means that the man was born blind. Two expectant parents waited for months to deliver a child. They made preparations to receive him and looked forward to holding him in their arms. Of course, they wouldn’t have known the sex of the child that was developing in the mother’s womb. They likely offered prayers that their child would be of service to the covenant God of their fathers, and prayers for health, and mercy, and grace.

When the child was born, someone said “It’s a boy!” They probably didn’t know immediately that their son was blind. But soon they did. The eyes of a newborn never seem to focus on anything, but within a few days you notice that they react to what they see. Especially bright lights and colors. Sometimes something will catch their eye, and it’s hard to explain why. When this child looked, he saw only darkness. Always darkness.

I imagine that realization came to the parents over time. Something wasn’t quite right. Could he see? He doesn’t blink in the sunlight. Can he not see? Rather quickly the questions is would give way to other questions.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

John 9:1-2

Anyone who knows the meaning of the word “sin” would face this question. The child’s parents faced it themselves from the moment they realized he was blind. Why?

Why?

Scripture makes clear that disease of all kinds, birth defects included, is the result of sin. It is a sign and a symptom of a fallen humanity. Do you realize why people tend to be so secretive about health problems? It is because our health problems point emphatically at our mortality. Our bodies are breaking down. It’s only a matter of time, which is a very uncomfortable thought. We’d prefer to hide from it, and so we often hide it from others.

The death that is creeping up on all of us is not a good thing. It is very bad. And it wasn’t part of the picture when God pronounced all that he had made as “very good.” Death became a reality when Adam sinned.

[…] sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 

Romans 5:12

And so it is that lack of health points to mortality and mortality points to sin. In this deep theological sense, the sin that sickness points to is not the sin of the sick person, but rather the sin of Adam, the progenitor of the human race. Nevertheless, we are all under the curse. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t so much as a catch a cold.

Furthermore, the Old Testament scriptures contain instances where the sicknesses of various kinds were judgments for more immediate sin. For example, King David sinned against God and the whole nation was visited with a plague. In that case, there was something more immediate to point to than the sin of Adam.

The disciples of Jesus asked him, whose sin is responsible for this man having been born blind? But Jesus directed them to an entirely different kind of reason.

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:3

Now, Jesus is not saying here that the man is not a sinner, nor that his parents are not sinners. Jesus is pointing his followers to an even bigger reality, and at that moment, a more immediate reality. Namely, everything is for the glory of God.

Every sickness and every recovery, every success and every failure is destined to demonstrate the glory of God. The purpose of God’s glory is further up and farther back than the sin. It is a deeper, more profound reality. There would be no sickness without mortality, there would be no mortality without sin, there would be no sin without creation, and God created in order to demonstrate his glorious character.

Because God created, he not only is just, he judges. He not only is kind, he blesses. He not only is loving, he sacrifices for the good of those he loves. He not only is powerful, he overcomes. He not only is forgiving, he forgives. He not only is merciful, he heals. He not only is a shepherd, he actually cares for us. This is the glory of God playing out in real time.

When Jesus directed the disciples thought to the glory of God, it was not only a deeper reality, it was a more immediate reality, although they didn’t know it at the time. The glory of God was about to be manifest is healing the man’s blindness. The sin of Adam was much further away in history than the healing was in the future. Of course, no one knew that when they woke up that morning.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).

So he went and washed and came back seeing. 

John 9:1-7

One of the things that we must notice in order to understand the doctrine of God’s glory as the ultimate purpose of all things is that his glory has not yet been realized in all things. Furthermore, it has not been fully realized in anything.

When Jesus said that the man was born blind so that the works of God could be displayed in him, the man was still blind. It would be highly improper to interpret the blindness itself as the work Jesus had in mind. The next few moments of history demonstrated that Jesus was talking about the healing. God wanted to demonstrate his character as a healer.

This means that although we can look at everything that happens and know God will use it for his glory, much of his glory will be demonstrated in overturning the things we now see. We aren’t supposed to see a man born blind and think “how wonderful!” As if blindness itself were the full outworking of God’s glory. We aren’t supposed to justify it based on anything that now exists. His blindness isn’t explained by how it makes him a better person, causing him to trust God, or have compassion on others. No. His blindness is explained only when it is completely erased. It is explained when God’s love and power triumph over that affliction.

If history stops here, God’s purposes go unfulfilled. If history were to freeze in this moment, God would be have failed in his promises. History is an unfinished work. It can not end here. It must go on in order for God to remain faithful. It must go on in order for him to demonstrate his glory.

It is not possible to make sense of where we are now, with so many blind, so many sick, so many dead, without reference to where the story is going.

Do you realize that the man who was born blind is now dead? What sense does that make? Did Jesus heal his blindness only to let him become food for worms? Is this the glory of God? Where is the purpose of God in all this?

It is in the future, when the tears are wiped away, when the sick have been healed, when Christ has triumphed over his enemies, when the lost have been found, when the earth and heavens have been renewed and the chosen ones gathered into the kingdom of God’s glory. Then it will make sense, and not before.

The glory of God will be revealed. Now we see only glimpses, like the sun coming up behind the horizon. But every joy seems have another sorrow on the other side. Every dawn gives way to dusk. Do we see now -right now- the glory of God in all things? We do not. But what we have seen is enough for us to trust. By faith, we can already see the final act, because we have glimpsed the glory of God, and we know that his glory must manifest itself. The world must change.

 

tiny lantern

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