I’ve been reading through John’s Gospel recently and, to be honest, it’s made me a bit uncomfortable.
Over and over I’ve seen how John makes it clear that this man from Galilee is one who knows the unknowable. He sees and meets needs. He works incredible miracles. His knowing, seeing, and working is a flesh and bone demonstration of God’s providence.
It’s the kind of good providence that makes us feel warm and fuzzy. That all of what’s wrong with the world is being remade. At least until, with Jesus, we encounter the man born blind.
In the beginning we are relieved to learn that his blindness is not directly the result of his sin or that of his parents. God isn’t like the god imagined by Job’s friends. He isn’t a cosmic schoolmarm waiting to smack our knuckles for every offense. Not every lightning strike is deserved. Not every whirlwind is a reaping of wind sown.
But then we learn that the man’s blindness was for another, more inscrutable reason—for God to show his works.
Wait a minute. My theological-self had fuzzy feelings before about God intervening for people’s good, for making wrong right. But then we come to realize the wrong and the waiting was part of God’s plan in the first place. Such a providence is anything but comfortable. It’s actually quite messy and painful.
For the blind man it feels like stubbed toes and a growling stomach. It sounds like secondhand laughter or a jeering passerby. It looks like parental frustration and public shame. For him, the concept of his lifelong blindness being for the purpose of God might not come across as theologically-robust. Sounds more like God-forsaken and deplorable.
It’s easy to read the Bible from the end of the story, or to bypass the bad to get to the good. To read the Gospels and forget decades of wandering. To welcome the kingdom and forget about exile. To hear God’s affirmative “Yes and Amen” in Jesus and skip over the generations of divine silence. To see the healing and forget the disease, the years of heartache and pain.
Another significant theme in John’s Gospel is that Jesus doesn’t work on human timetables. He doesn’t cater to human expectations, even when it’s his mother or his brothers or the community elders (which in that culture was about as ill-mannered as possible). But Jesus defied custom and familial expectation to show allegiance to his Father’s will alone.
Perhaps we see this most clearly in the story of Lazarus. When Jesus receives word of his dear friend’s illness, his greatest concern is for the glory of his Father. He doesn’t respond right away, appearing to almost brush aside their request.
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And his waiting leads to death. Yes, temporal death. Yes, there was glorious resurrection to follow. But don’t jump to the end of the story. Sit there in the dirt that’s becoming mud with Mary and Martha’s tears. Listen uncomfortably to the weeping and wailing of the mourners. Feel the muscles tighten in your stomach. Your cheekbones sore from damming up the swell of sorrow.
In that moment, he wept with those who wept. He didn’t preach a sermon on God’s wondrous providence, of his plan to prosper them, or of the Father’s glory on display in their midst. No, Jesus wept. Not crocodile tears. Not a knowing nod toward their pain. He cried tears of hurt, joining them in their anguish.
This was Martha and Mary’s hope. And John tells us at the outset of the story that such hope was not unfounded. Jesus did love Lazarus, which is why he waited and why he wept. This, as well, is our hope in God’s pain-filled providence.
In the case of Lazarus, in the case of the blind man, and in our hurt, Jesus waits because of his love. It’s not just a heartless demonstration of power and a display of glory. This is an exposition of love. It’s due to his mercies that God allows the pain. It’s because of his compassions that he lets us endure the night.
As uncomfortable as that makes us, we actually want a God like this. We want a God with his own timetable, his own plan, and his own agenda. Why? Because mine would be shortsighted and selfish. Because my plans would ultimately fail. But he sees all. He knows all. He works for good. Though that’s not the full of it.
He loves and he weeps. And so we wait.