The Paschal season in the Orthodox Church offers us several weeks to sing and absorb the message: Christ is risen form the dead, trampling down death by death. And every year we read the Gospel of the man born blind in the context of our celebrating the resurrection of Christ:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his 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 made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”(John 9:1-5)
The Gospel begins with the disciples attempting to impose a moral order on the world they live in. A man born blind – even before he had a chance to sin, he is already afflicted with disease. Is the universe really so unfair, unreasonable and random that someone can be afflicted without having done anything wrong? Doesn’t that very idea cast doubt upon not only the goodness of God, but God’s very existence?
The disciples endeavor to place a moral order on what they see – there must be a reason for the man’s blindness! Perhaps forgetting that the story of Job is part of their scriptures. The innocent are at times victimized by irrational forces in the universe.
The disciples expecting order in God’s universe, want to make sense of a baby being born blind – surely there must be a just reason which caused and thus explains such a tragedy. God would not be so unjust as to inflict blindness of an innocent baby! If a tragedy like blindness occurs it must be part of the moral universe: retribution for sin. The book of Job, however, shows even a righteous man – not just an innocent man – can suffer, however unfair and unjust that is. Suffering is not always related to retribution, but is always related to the distorted world of the Fall in which powers, some alien or hostile to God, do operate.
We cannot always know the reason for suffering. Job never learns the truth about his suffering. His faithfulness to God remains even without that knowledge. Knowing God is enough for him. He believes in God and that is Job’s righteousness
The book of Job is good Lenten reading. It prepares us for understanding how it might be possible that Jesus is Lord and Christ, and yet God, His Father, allows Him to suffer. There is no retribution there, no loss of love. They mystery of incarnate love, revealed in Jesus Christ, gives hope and meaning to Job and to all who suffer. Suffering does not mean or imply that one is forsaken by God. That is a lesson of Job and Jesus and the man born blind from birth.
Christ is the light of the world, even for those physically blind. Christ is the light of the world, even when we can’t quite see Him. Christ is the light of the world even for those spiritually lost, or who are walking, whether fearfully or hopelessly, in darkness.
It does happen that our need for a moral order in the universe and for complete justice cause us to impose a meaning on events and an understanding of the universe that are not theologically correct. It remains a fact that some things in the universe are beyond our comprehension. Our effort to impose a moral order on events in fact take us further away from understanding God or the universe. We who are so impatient, have to wait on the Lord. Thankfully, God is not limited by or to our sense of justice, purpose and meaning.
Do not think that every affliction befalls people on account of sin, because there are some who are pleasing to God who are still tempted. It is written that the impious and lawless will be persecuted [Ps 36.28 (LXX)]; it says as well that “all who want to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted [2 Tim 3.12].” (St. Mark the Monk, Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle 2137-2139)