A couple of times recently, I’ve listened to “what the Bible says” conversations that have left me scratching my head. Today’s Sunday School lesson (written by a well-known author/pastor) dealt with personal affliction and God’s glory and used an excerpt from John 9, the story of Jesus healing the man blind from birth. The aim of the lesson: to teach about how God is glorified and how we can grow, even (and especially) through affliction.
The author made particular reference to John 9:3, which gives Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question about whether this man was a sinner or his parents (since he had been blind from birth). Jesus’ response: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Our author followed with his interpretation: “The point of the story, then, is how the blind man’s affliction revealed God’s glory.”
No. That’s not the point of this story! It’s really about spiritual blindness and faith. As the story continues, after the man’s healing, he is interrogated by the Pharisees about whether Jesus was a sinner. Ultimately, they boot him from synagogue fellowship and the story ends with Jesus’ word: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” He aims directly at the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
You see why I’m bugged by using that verse to talk about affliction? If I don’t read the rest of the story, I miss the whole point! I’m worried, then, about how people read or hear the Bible, once they’ve “learned” some principle in this way. It makes me think of how often we miss the point because we already “know” the point.
Preachers and teachers, we are most to blame. Too much “biblical preaching/teaching clouds biblical truth with “applications” that draw people away from the Bible’s own claims.
There is much in the scriptures that teaches about affliction without resorting to ripping off other parts. Job is about affliction, especially undeserved. A number of the Psalms speak about affliction. James teaches about affliction. Not John.
Preachers and teachers work against spiritual growth when we treat the Bible this way. I fully concede that I’m saying nothing new, but I don’t think we’re paying sufficient attention to the problem. We who are responsible for guiding people spiritually mislead them by distraction, when we already have our topic and carelessly grab for proof texts for support. It makes me think of another verse: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters…” Have I gotten the point of this story right?