I liked math in school, though I don’t use it much today, except for simple arithmetic. Despite the calculator app in my phone, I try to do simple functions in my head. Like figuring out sale percentages or what the better value is per ounce on a box of cereal.
I think in school I just liked the rules, the 2+2 always equals 4. My favorite subject, English, also contained rules: grammar rules. I don’t remember all the names of the parts of speech, but I know how to use them and when I can break them. The same is true in music.
I remember the first day of my second year of music theory in college. My professor who’d pounded the rules of music into our brains for two full semesters said, “OK, now that we know the rules we can break them.” (Most musicians simply break them without knowing them.) We would analyze chorales and see that Bach had invariably followed all the rules, and then we’d turn to something by Debussy and see that he’d broken many of them. Of course, I prefer Debussy over Bach. I guess at heart I really am a rebel.
A pattern is emerging for me in the Gospel of John: Jesus keeps turning over the way I think the world works. What was black and white has blurred into a hazy gray. There are seldom easy, pat answers — except to say that God will be glorified.
Busting the Health and Wealth Myth
Let’s look at a blind man who was healed by Jesus.
1 As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing. –John 9:1-7 (ESV)
There was a mistaken understanding in Jesus’ time — and not much has changed today — that health and wealth were undeniably linked to God’s blessing. If you were rich, you must be righteous. Poor, a sinner. Healthy, righteous. Sick, unrighteous. Many people believed this, despite the pleadings of the prophet Jeremiah who wondered hundreds of years earlier why God allowed the wicked to prosper.
1 Righteous are you, O LORD, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive? 2 You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart. –Jeremiah 12:1-2 (ESV)
Look also at David’s honest prayer:
3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. … 12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. 13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. –Psalm 73:3, 12-13 (ESV)
So when Jesus’ disciples asked him why the man had been born blind, he said it had nothing to do with his or his parents’ sin but that God might be glorified. Years prior, God knew when he formed the man in his mother’s womb that he would encounter the Son of God and be healed. From his toddler years, this man stumbled in the darkness until the day Jesus spat in the dirt, made mud, and placed it on his eyes.
Once Blind, But Now I See
Following the healing, an argument between the formerly blind man and the Pharisees ensued, including a hilarious moment when the man asked if the religious leaders themselves wanted to become Jesus’ disciples. He also said something very pointed when they pressed him for knowledge of the man who’d healed them. He said in essence, “I don’t know who he is, yet I know this: I was once blind but now I see.”
In my attempt to write here for these Scripture posts and in my teaching my family about Jesus, I have to admit that sometimes I’m stumped. Sometimes I just can’t explain it. And I’m OK with that.
I’m reading a fantastic book right now called Walking in the Dust of the Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg. She writes about how we want to understand everything, and if we can’t, then we won’t accept it. I’m beginning to accept what I don’t understand. Like why a man had to suffer with blindness his entire life until Jesus would heal him. And even more, why so many suffer without healing.
Another reason for the indifference between Jewish and Western logic is the assumption that God alone can understand all things. Jewish thought is much more comfortable with knowing its limits than is Western, Christian thought. … All true explanations of God’s nature must openly include paradoxical concepts my mind cannot grasp. –Lois Tverberg