Friday, August 26, 2011

Purpose, Not Cause

In the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts the question of why God allows suffering in the world. In that portion of scripture, Jesus and his disciples come across a man who had been blind from birth. At that moment, Jesus’ disciples had the opportunity to ask Jesus the simple question that so many of us have asked God in our grief—why God? Why was this man born blind? Was the man’s blindness caused by the sin of the man’s parents or the man’s own sin? Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus then proceeded to demonstrate His authority over blindness, health, and life itself by immediately healing the man’s blindness. It seems that God purposed the man’s blindness from birth in order to provide Jesus, at that very moment, the opportunity to powerfully demonstrate His healing power.

For parents grieving the death of their children, two significant implications follow from this passage.

Turn to God’s purposes

First, we should look for the purposes that God is accomplishing through the death of our child, and not focus on the causes of his death. Of this passage, John Piper says, “The meaning of Jesus [in this passage] is not obscure. He is saying to the disciples: Turn away from your fixation on causality as the decisive explanation of suffering. And turn away from any surrender to futility, or absurdity, or chaos, or meaninglessness. And turn to the purposes and plans of God. There is no child and no suffering outside God’s purposes.” John Piper, Sermon, May, 2011,

If you have lost a child in death, you can trust that God is not punishing you for some sin in the past or some failure on your part to adequately care for your child. Just as the man born blind was not punished for the sins of his parents, so also your child did not die because of your past. Moreover, there is nothing that you could have done to have prevented your child’s death. The author and sustainer of the entire universe purposed that your child should live only as long as he or she lived, not a moment more, not a moment less. King David wrote, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Psalm 139:16.

If we center our grief in the causes of our child’s death, we will be caught in an endless cycle of anger, frustration, and discontentment. In short, we will be living in the past. Instead of focusing on the causes of how our child died, we ought to try to live in the assurance that God is, even through this most difficult time of our life, working “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. Rather than living in despair, we can live in peace, trusting that God accomplishes all his objectives for our child’s life in a manner that most glorifies Himself. We can live “in the future” in the sense that we will, ultimately, come to realize that all of our sufferings were used by God in a manner far exceeding our grandest expectations.

God’s ultimate aim is to accomplish His glory and our good, not our comfort

Second, this passage shows us that God prioritizes the magnification of His own glory ahead of our life objectives, our life goals, and even our own comfort. Consider the suffering of the blind man as he lived in blindness in first-century Palestine. He did not benefit from those modern conveniences available to blind men & women. In addition to these daily physical difficulties that must have accompanied his blindness, the man suffered from the social stigma that accompanied blindness in that culture. From his birth, the man was an outcast. He was forced to endure the scorn and ridicule of those who believed that his blindness was a result of sin.

Some argue that God could not possibly desire for us to experience such significant suffering as the death of a child. The implicit assumption with this argument is that God sees the universe exactly as we do. In other words, under this misguided notion, our perception of the greatest “good” that could come from a particular situation is also God’s greatest “good.” As noted by Randy Alcorn in “If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering,” a child often fails to see the good that is accomplished when parents discipline their child. From the child’s standpoint, the parent does not seem to be working for his or her greatest good. Just as children do not have the long-term perspective necessary to see the greater good that can be accomplished through discipline, so also we usually lack God’s perspective when it comes to understanding the purposes behind our own suffering.

Particularly in an age of human history where we make much of “human rights,” it seems that the worst thing God could do is take away our “rights” to a safe, comfortable life. But nowhere does the Bible apologize for the suffering that followers of Christ may experience during their earthly lifetimes. Jesus’ encounter with this first-century Palestinian blind man in John 9 underscores the fact that God not only allows suffering, but uses these sufferings. There, God purposed this man’s blindness, and all that it entailed, in order to give Jesus this opportunity, at this brief moment in history, to demonstrate His glory.

In addition to providing occasion for God to demonstrate his glory, the man’s blindness was also for the blind man’s own ultimate good. In exchange for the safe, comfortable life to which we think we are entitled, God calls us to a life greater than what we can fathom. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:9, “…no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” It is not unreasonable to think that, even after his subsequent meetings with the Jewish religious leaders, the blind man described in John chapter 9 became a devoted follower of Christ. I’m guessing that if you could speak with this Christ-follower right now, he would tell you that he is glad that he was born blind. His blindness turned out to be for his good, because it occasioned him to meet and be healed by Jesus and, most likely and importantly, become a devoted follower of Jesus.

If you are suffering through the death of a child, isn’t it possible that, just as God used the blind man’s infirmity to glorify himself, God will also work through your weakness to glorify himself? Isn’t it also possible that, as of this moment, we cannot grasp everything that has occurred and will occur by reason of your child’s death, and that God will use your child’s death to accomplish many and varied good things, whether in your life or the lives of others?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Cory. You wrote this on the day my son, Adam, died. Today would have been his 31st birthday, and in my grief and through my tears, I was looking for something, anything, to comfort my hurting heart. Your article popped up, and when I saw the date you wrote it, I knew God meant for me to see it today. Some days, like today, I know will be almost too difficult to bear...I'm sure you and Heather experience that, too. But through your article, I was reminded that the purposes of God are so much greater than our expectations. I'm like the blind man, limited by my small world and my small imagination for how God could use this tragedy. But "more of Him, less of me" through Adam's death has become my new reality; a "tragedy" for me is glory for Him. (And the truth is, I'm more than a little envious that my son has beat me home!) You've reminded me that to question God's purpose is to deny him the glory that is HIS alone. And His purpose extends so far... farther than I'll ever be able to see this side of heaven. He alone knows His purpose for me, for Adam's little 6 year old son, for his brothers, all who knew him and were touched by his life... even the two people that are alive today because of the organs that were donated from Adam's broken body. I will pray for you and Heather, thanking God for the gift of Micah in your lives, and for the purpose of his death that will be continually unveiled, here and in eternity. Bless you for your gift of this article; truly another new mercy, which comes daily, from the One who loves me most.
    Rhonda Wootton, Colorado Springs, CO