“Who sinned?” That was the question the disciples asked Jesus when they came across a man born blind. It was also the question a pastor asked James Bryan Smith, author of The Good and Beautiful God, when James’s daughter was born with a terminal chromosomal disorder. The disciples, and this pastor, may appear to be insensitive, but they’re only vocalizing a narrative that so many of us believe. Behind this question, “Who sinned?”, lies the belief that “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished.” (40)
This has been humanity’s controlling narrative for millenia, and it continues to live on in the church in spite of God’s best efforts to finally put this misnomer to rest. (He did, after all, send his own son to die for the sins of the world so that we can all be reconciled back to God. How’s that for an angry judge?) Perhaps no organization lives out this false understanding of God more faithfully than Westboro Baptist Church. They are infamous for protesting soldiers’ funerals, carrying placards emblazoned with “God hates fags” and other such bile. For them, the clearest image of God isn’t Jesus Christ dying and rising again for the sake of the world, but of God (or is it Zeus) astride a thundercloud with lightening bolt in hand, ready to strike fornicators and sinners dead.
Fortunately for everyone ever and everywhere, that narrative is false. At the core of God, in the very heart of the Trinity, resides an infinite well of self-giving, self-sacrificing love. How can a God, who is love, be so angry? How can he be so quick to dole out punishment on “sinners?” The truth is that he’s not. God is not angry, but eager. He is eager for us to repent, believe, and love him. He yearns for us to be reconnected to him in life-giving and soul-refreshing relationship. He longs to make us new, so new, in fact, that we become like Jesus.
So then, who sinned? Jesus’s answer is simple. Nobody. And everybody. In the case of the blind man, like in Smith’s case (and in our case with our epileptic son), nobody’s sin caused this disease. God is not doling out punishment for some sin we may or may not remember. These diseases have come because death rules the world, and death rules the world because everybody has sinned, and the consequence of sin is death. However, and this is an awfully big however, Jesus has conquered death! He did it when he rose again from the dead. We live in an entirely new world, one where we can look death in the face and laugh, crying out in mockery with the apostle Paul, “Where, O Death, is your sting; where, O Death, is your victory?” The victory over death resides in Jesus Christ.
What is Jesus doing now? According to that same apostle Paul (here I’m drawing from 1 Corinthians 15), Jesus is putting all of his enemies under his feet; that is, he is conquering everyone and everything that opposes him. One of those things, I believe, is disease. Particularly, diseases like blindness and epilepsy. While there are many ways in which Jesus is defeating disease (through medical research, gifted doctors, spiritual gifts of healing, faith healers, and many others), one of the most important ways he is putting this enemy under his feet is through the prayers of his people.
My wife and I are dealing with this enemy in our son, and we are praying and believing that God will heal him of his epilepsy. We long for the rule and reign of Jesus the King to be made manifest in our son’s brain, where the enemy of epilepsy wreaks havoc on him. We pray over him everyday, and we look forward to the day when he will walk without falling down, speak clearly and with extensive vocabulary, and testify to the power of Jesus the King in his own body and life. Many of you who read this blog are praying for him, as well. We are deeply grateful for your prayers and kindnesses. Someday we will all rejoice together at the powerful work of God in healing our boy. God is not angry; he is agape love.