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 Who's fault is suffering?

READING: John 9.1-16, 30-38

Our first question when something bad happens is: Who's fault is it? 
- I think we learned that as toddlers, and that's when we learned to blame others
- something breaks and Mum calls out: Who did that?
- 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 physicians!"
- 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 listening
- 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
- his parents knew he was the same person, but had no idea how he'd been healed
- and of course the blind man himself didn't know who Jesus was
- he did what Jesus told him, but this wasn't the obedience of faith.
- 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 deliver?
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 Him God?

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 someone
- You probably think: Well, this is a fair game, because God is in charge.

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 except me?
- 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 activity?

Let's think about what seems to be totally random, like earthquakes and lightning
- 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
- someone in Germany started keeping count of lightening during that 30 years
- 400 church towers were struck by lightening, and 120 bell-ringers were killed
- clearly, the most sinful people in the population were the bell-ringers

Churches didn't get the message till the disaster at Brescia, Italy in 1769
- 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
- very 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 use it?
- 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 God'?
- it comes from the Laws of Hammurabi which are about 4000 years old
(we don't know how old, because Hammurabi didn't write them – he stole them)
 #249:  If a man hires an ox and a god strikes it, the man will… go free.

Courts still use this concept, within limits, as an unpredictable circumstance
- 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 here?
- I would say that God is in charge, but he doesn't take charge
- I'm not going to come up with a facile answer here
- this problem is a whole academic field by itself, called Theodicy
 (see for more details)
- 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 doctrine
- the Fall. The Fall is what happened when sin entered the world
- to some extent it happened before Adam & Eve when Satan fell
- the whole cosmos (well, at least this whole planet) was affected by it
- the world works in cycles of life and death, building and destruction
- when God stepped in and made humans, he put them in a Garden bubble
- 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 am.
- 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 day
- 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 blind?
- 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 glory
- 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 those sins.
- 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 birth
- he suffered that blindness, and lived as a beggar, waiting for this day
- 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 blame.
- But if anyone is to blame, it is us. And it is worth remembering that.


(C) Dr David Instone-Brewer 2009

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David Instone-Brewer