Who's fault is suffering?
READING: John 9.1-16, 30-38
Our first question when something bad happens is: Who's fault is
- I think we learned that as toddlers, and that's when we
learned to blame others
- something breaks and Mum calls out: Who did
- before we can speak properly, we learn to crawl away quickly
and look innocent
- when we learn to speak we say: "It was the cat."
or "It just happened by itself."
- quite a lot of vases just happened
to fall and smash when I played with my brother
- and as we got older,
we learned to repair them before our Mum found out
- I remember my Mum
examining an old dark blue vase and realising it had been broken and
repaired, and the white cracks had been made invisible with felt pen
and I was as surprised as anyone! It must have just happened.
Well, I'd like to commend this phrase: It just happened. No-one did it.
- not as an explanation for broken vases, but as a true explanation
for many things
- as an explanation for earthquakes, for many
illnesses, for many accidents
- in a litigious society, we always look
for someone to blame so we can sue them
- so every accident has a cause
some inattention, lack of warning, bad maintenance
||- and every illness has a cause eating or
breathing the wrong thing, or too much|
- I remember standing with other
students at the bed of someone with pancreatitis with a consultant of the
very old school who was smoked even in front of patients.
- he asked:
what are the causes of pancreatitis, One brave fool said: "Smoking?"
- "Nonsense! that's a fallacy put about by non-smoking
- and he had a point most pacreatitis isn't caused by
smoking, though some is
We almost feel better if we can blame the patient, cos then we don't
feel so guilty
- we feel guilty for being well, because it isn't fair
that someone else should be ill
- as Christians we also like to put the
blame on the person who is ill or remains ill
- they pray for healing
and they are among those who are not healed.
- who's to blame? They
are! Because they didn't have enough faith!
Jesus stepped on this non-sense and squashed it flat, but no-one was
- his disciples asked: How much faith do we need? How much
did Jesus say?
A) "You need great faith" ? B) "You need a medium
amount of faith"?
C) "You need the tiniest amount you can imagine as
small as a mustard seed"?
How much faith in Jesus did this blind man have?
- how much faith
in Jesus did his friends have, or his family?
- his friends didn't
even recognise the miracle. They doubted he was the same man
parents knew he was the same person, but had no idea how he'd been
- and of course the blind man himself didn't know who Jesus
- he did what Jesus told him, but this wasn't the obedience of
- Who wouldn't want to wash after someone speared a gob and mud
over your eyes!
- he couldn't put his trust in Jesus because he didn't
know who Jesus was!
We talk about "faith" as if it is some kind of substance inside us
we forget that "faith" and "trust" are the same Greek word, pistis
"faith" by itself, without "trust" in a person, is idolatry, like faith in
a lump of rock
- "faith in God" is "trust in God" we know him, and
know he wants good for us.
So why do so many bad things happen? If God wants Good for us and can
Epicurus put it succinctly in about 300 BC:
Is God willing
to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able,
but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call
Why does God let bad things happen to us and to the rest of the world?
- we feel OK when bad things happen to bad people, but they also
happen to the good
- why does God do that? Doesn't God love us?
hang on: We are playing the blame game again. We want to blame
- You probably think: Well, this is a fair game, because God is
Let's think about that.
- how much is God in charge of? Let's
start with ourselves.
- who decided how much you ate yesterday, and
how much exercise you did?
- who decided how much praying you did, and
how much you helped others?
- did God decide how you filled yesterday
and how much good or evil you did?
- THAT is what God's sovereignty
means: How much is he sovereign over me?
- is he my king, my
sovereign? Or is he my friend who just listens to my woes?
Let's think further afield. What is God in charge of outside ourselves?
- is God in control of what other humans do? Does he control everyone
- is God in control of the economy or public transport
which is run by humans?
- is God in control of the weather, or crop
yields, or epidemics, which are all influenced by human
Let's think about what seems to be totally random, like earthquakes and
- do you regard God as in charge of these, and responsible
for what happens?
- when Benjamin Franklin invented the lighting rod,
churches refused to use it
- for 30 years no church installed one,
because it interfered with God's will
- they reasoned that lightening
is God's favourite method for doing his smiting
- instead, during
lighting storms, they rang the church bells to warn sinners
in Germany started keeping count of lightening during that 30 years
400 church towers were struck by lightening, and 120 bell-ringers were
- clearly, the most sinful people in the population were the
Churches didn't get the message till the disaster at Brescia, Italy in
- lighting struck the church tower, which transmitted a shaft of
heat to the crypt
- unfortunately the crypt was where the town militia
kept their gunpowder dry
- and there was 100 tons of it stored there
when it exploded
- a sixth of the town was destroyed, and 3000 people
were killed, probably including their sinful bell-ringer
quickly, most churches in Europe had lighting conductors fitted
So have we decided that God isn't in charge of lighting? Or he doesn't
- my brother-in-law was struck by lighting while hill-walking
in a storm
- it didn't kill him, so what was it for? Why did God do it?
- why do insurance companies often refuse to pay out on 'Acts of
- it comes from the Laws of Hammurabi which are about 4000 years
(we don't know how old, because Hammurabi didn't write them he
#249: If a man hires an ox and a god strikes
it, the man will
Courts still use this concept, within limits, as an unpredictable
- I like the story of "rainmaker" Charles Hatfield, hired
in 1915 by San Diego
- for $10,000 he agreed to make rain to fill the
Morena reservoir to capacity
- very soon, heavy rains filled and
nearly burst the reservoir's dam, destroyed 110 out of 112 bridges,
killing 20 people, and causing $3.5 million in total damage
- he sued
the city who refused to pay him. The court ruled it was an Act of God
this meant that he was excluding from liability but also from payment.
So who's fault is it when disaster strikes? Who's in charge around
- I would say that God is in charge, but he doesn't take
- I'm not going to come up with a facile answer here
problem is a whole academic field by itself, called Theodicy
- and I'm not going to put a whole field of academics out
of work in one sentence
Having said that, I think the solution lies in a traditional Christian
- the Fall. The Fall is what happened when sin entered the
- to some extent it happened before Adam & Eve when Satan
- the whole cosmos (well, at least this whole planet) was affected
- the world works in cycles of life and death, building and
- when God stepped in and made humans, he put them in a
- in Eden they could be protected and healthy
forever by eating special food
- but Satan tempted them to want to know
about all the bad stuff too
- and once they knew about it, their minds
became corrupted by it
- so humans joined the Fallen world, suffering
death, disease and disasters
So who is to blame? Adam is. Or Eve is. Or Satan is. Or perhaps I
- ask yourself. If you were in Eden, would you have done the same?
- I'm sure I would. I see myself doing lots of stupid things every
- I don't look after this body, and I don't feed this mind only
with good stuff
- I'd be a sucker when Satan says: "Wouldn't you like
just a little taste?"
- "You have a nice garden, but you could have
cars and cake and CD collections"
So the disciples ask: Who's fault is it that this man was born
- was it his sin, or the sins of his parents?
- we would now
add: Or was it Adam & Eve's sin, or our sin?
Jesus is kind to us. He says: It wasn't to punish sin but to show God's
- what Jesus actually said was: this man and his parents didn't
sin ! (v.3)
- well, of course they did. They did a hundred sins a day,
like we all do
- but Jesus meant that we shouldn't put the blame on
- and Jesus didn't say that God did it. Though of course
God does everything
- God started everything, so God does everything,
even if we decide to do it
- what Jesus actually says: it happened to
reveal the works of God in him
Does that mean that this poor man was picked out and made blind from
- he suffered that blindness, and lived as a beggar, waiting for
- then, in order to glorify God, Jesus healed him, and he
lived happily ever after
- except, of course, he didn't: he was thrown
out of the synagogue, rejected by his parents, and had no work skills
(because he'd been blind all his life).
- so he suffered all his life,
just so that God could be glorified by his healing?
- is that what
Jesus means? I don't think so.
Jesus answers our question: Who is to blame? (A stupid question)
- and he say: OK, if someone has to take the blame, I and my Father
will take it
- I hearby declare that he and his parents were sinless
(though they weren't) and he was born blind so I could heal him,
entirely for my benefit (though he wasn't).
- why did Jesus say these
things, which were clearly not true?
- because Jesus made them true.
- Jesus took on our sin, and made us sinless
- he took on the
responsibility for all 'natural disasters' caused by the Fall
disasters which humans could have escaped in Eden, as God wanted
Jesus did what God does all the time: he brought good out of our evil
||Here is a summary of all religions using
the common phrase: Sh*t happens. |
- except I'm going to chicken out and
not read it out loud:
||- dare I add: "Jesus came to share our sh*t
and take it on himself"|
- on the cross, Jesus took all our sin, and the
blame for everything bad
- who's fault is it? Jesus says: I'll take the
- But if anyone is to blame, it is us. And it is worth
(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2009
Get a free
Powerpoint viewer, or use free OpenOffice
Impress to edit powerpoints.
See here for permissions to use
this sermon. In brief, preachers can use the words and pictures, with
as many changes as they like, without any acknowledgement, but it
can't be published elsewhere without permission.