A man born blind helped people see something they’d missed. It’s just one of the ironies of an episode–told in John 9–that illuminates glory.
The disciples think the issue is assigning blame. Who sinned, they asked–this man or his parents? It’s obvious, they’re saying: one or the other or all are culpable. Their question might have been lifted from the account of Job, when supposed friends came to that afflicted man and pointed fingers. The problems Job faced, those guys explained with confidence, were of his own doing. Readers who get a glimpse of the back story in that early book, however–the part where the accuser confronts God and challenges Him to a match that uses Job as the target–know that this assertion is flawed.
Same deal in John 9. As Jesus puts it, neither the man nor his parents are to blame. Instead, this happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life, Jesus says. That hiss you hear is all the air going out of the space around the disciples; the implications of Jesus’ statement are staggering.
Another story that may shed light–one featuring Moses, as he stands before God to be commissioned for leading Israel’s children out of Egypt. I can’t, Moses protests. You can, God insists. My mouth, my hands, Moses explains–all woefully inadequate. False humility? Fear of reprisal? Preference for another line of work? The motivations for Moses’ argument get buried by God’s reply (Exodus 4:11): Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? In each case, the obvious answer is, God. Which we do not immediately expect.
We expect God to deflect, or that we’ll receive a more nuanced answer. Instead, there is a blunt statement, where God admits to being the cause for trouble. All trouble? That cannot be laid at God’s feet. But some–at least, what we would call trouble: this He owns.
The interesting question, then, is why? Why does God do this? For a response, we go back to Jesus, who is keen to help His disciples see the blind man differently. This happened so that the work of God may be displayed in his life, Jesus says. Doesn’t this create more difficulty than it solves?
At a minimum, Jesus is rewriting the way we evaluate. He is telling us that we cannot automatically render a snap decision about whether something is ‘bad’ (or, to be consistent, ‘good’). Rather, we must probe more deeply, and be willing to replace our quickness to judge with an openness to asking: what is God up to here?
Doing so requires a change of perspective–but what happens if we make that change? And then, if we are open to looking for God, what will we see? This is where the Pharisees come back into view.
Give glory to God, they instruct the man as they drag him in for a second round of questioning about his recent experience with the trouble-making Jesus. They mean, with this statement, to coerce a confession (‘give glory to God’ is, in one setting, rather like ‘do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?’), and thus to latch on to a way of charging Jesus with crimes and misdemeanors.
The formerly blind man is incredulous: the guy healed me! Who am I to render judgment regarding whether He’s a sinner? And then the clincher: If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (John 9:34).
Irony number two: this formerly blind man is doing exactly what the Pharisees asked–he is giving glory to God. That is, by calling attention to what God has done, the man says that God is worthy of praise. The religious professionals don’t see it that way. For them, the healed man is insolent, and the healer a threat.
But in following this exchange, we learn that part of what it means to give glory to God is to look through a lens that allows us to recognize the work of God, and to praise Him, no matter the method or the outcome.