I used to be a huge fan of aquatic animal life. Sea World was, quite possibly, my favorite place in the universe. I was especially a fan of Shamu. One night, when I was 5, my mom and I were praying before bedtime (as we did every night), and I uttered a simple prayer: “God, bless Shamu. God, bless Nanu. But God, don’t bless the hammerheads.”
I still think that there is something to this prayer.
My 5-year-old self had already realized that the world is full of scary things. Scary things like hammerhead sharks.
By the way, they still scare me.
As I grew up, my prayers became more grown-up and mature, too (at least, I hope). Now, instead of praying from fear of hammerheads, I’m more motivated by fear of this world.
Though sometimes I still get on planes and promise God that if he gets me safely to my destination, I’ll never sin again.
I admit, this kind of prayerful bargaining isn’t very mature, and misses the point of true prayer. Even so, such prayers do speak to something very true, something we rarely articulate but know all too well, deep in our bones.
Something isn’t right in this world.
And I’m not just talking about hammerheads.
Before I joined the Y2AM Team, I worked as a child and adolescent therapist. Most of the kids that I saw were wards of the State of Arizona, having been removed from their parents due to severe neglect, abuse, or both. Some were on the road to reunification with their families; some were going to be adopted by others. All of them came carrying a great deal of hurt.
And every time they told me their stories, I got mad.
I was mad at this world. I was mad at their parents. And I was even a little mad (if I may admit it) at God.
How, I wondered, could God allow for these children to have such terrible lives?
What did they do to deserve this? And what must have happened in their parents’ lives for them to be so cruel to their children?
I was looking for someone to blame.
Of course, such thinking rarely yields satisfactory answers, and can even lead to great despair. And in my case, it did.
I couldn’t (and still can’t) understand how a good God could allow such awful things to happen to innocent children.
Because I do believe that God is good. But I confess that I struggle to understand why these things happen, or more to the point, why God seemingly doesn’t do anything about them.
Of course, bad things happen to all of us. To some degree we all have felt the pain of living in an imperfect world: through broken hearts from broken relationships due to broken promises which lead us into broken dreams.
Each of us, at some point, has felt the sharp sting of the world’s brokennes. Each of us, at some point, has felt at our heels the monster of death and all that it brings: sickness, loneliness, divorce, job loss, etc.
Every rational instinct in us demands an explanation: Why do these things happen?
Why does God let them happen?
This Sunday, just two weeks before Pentecost and the close of the Paschal season, we will see Christ heal a man born blind, and we will see the Lord’s apostles struggle with all of the questions we’ve been wrestling with.
As Christ is returning from the Temple on the Sabbath, He sees a man who has been blind since birth; Sts. John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, and Irenaeus all taught that this man was actually born without eyes. This man is born without two important organs: incomplete.
When the disciples see Him, they ask the Master, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn. 9:2). Immediately they want to know why this bad thing has happened. They want to know what happened to cause him to deserve this. They are looking for who is to blame.
But Christ doesn’t assign blame. Instead, He answers simply: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (Jn. 9:3).
This response is sometimes frustrating for me. This sounds like Christ is saying that God made this man blind so that God could make him see. This just sounds like a cruel thing for God to do, doesn’t it? Why make him blind at all if He was planning to make him see? Couldn’t God have simply shortcut the process and made him with fully functioning eyes?
But then I realize that I’m blaming God, and Christ isn’t interested in blame. Instead of focusing on the cause of this problem, He offers a solution.
Christ heals the man.
But this healing doesn’t occur with a word, as we saw Him do a couple weeks ago with the paralytic. This time, He does something rather peculiar (and honestly, a little gross); He spits in the dirt, makes clay, and rubs it in the man’s eyes (or eye sockets, according to the fathers), telling him to ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (Jn. 9:7).
When the man returns with his sight restored, the people are baffled, hardly able to believe it is the same man who days before was sitting and begging, born without eyes.
Yet it is the same man! He is the same man who just moments ago, had no eyes. No wonder people reacted with such amazement, saying: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (Jn. 9:31-32).
In this passage, Christ gives no answer for why the man is born blind. Instead, He turns the question on its head by making the work of God manifest in this man. And the work of God, “is making human beings, and specifically human beings in his image, after the stature of Christ himself…the point of this passage is not about the providence of God or his arbitrariness, but rather to remind us that we are clay in the potter’s hands.”
As it was in the beginning when God formed human beings from the dust of the earth and breathed life into them (Gen. 2:7), so now does that same God, Christ Himself, act to fashion eyes from the dust of the earth.
In this way, the man’s blindness can be reframed as neither the result of his parents’ sin nor his own, but rather, the natural consequence of living in a world that is mortal and fallen. God doesn’t cause or even necessarily allow bad things to happen. Rather, He bears them with us, and promises that He is “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
That this man is born without eyes is simply further evidence that our world is a world in which not everything is okay. It is a world still in the process of being created. But this Gospel has a word for us. It promises that our God, one day, will complete everything that is incomplete, perfect that which is imperfect, and right every wrong.
The reality of our world is such that bad things happen all the time. They just do. Children are abused. Parents are estranged. Marriages are broken. Jobs are lost. Diseases are contracted. Lives are ended.
Each of us has experienced this in our bones, and we know on a deep level that not everything is okay, that something is missing.
And our impulse is to blame somebody – anybody – for why these bad things happen.
But the Gospel blames neither God nor man for this terrible state. Instead, it gives us hope.
Hope is different from optimism. It is a mature realism grounded in the reality of the Gospel, and it presents us with an “altogether different orientation to time…hope seeks a future not by ignoring or denying death (looking on the bright side) but by living through it…Optimism says, ‘Something good will come out of this experience.’ Hope says, ‘In the midst of hell God will act.’…Optimism is positivity; hope is trust.”
More specifically, hope is trust in a Person. Optimism looks to put a “happy spin” on something bad (“At least you don’t have cancer”) while hope is born out of living in the present and looking to God, trusting that Christ will do something (at least eventually) to make it all better.
And He will.
This Gospel is proof of that, although we may not be able to explain how the healing happened.
Each of us is born incomplete. We are born lacking…something. So we raise our voices at God and ask why our lives are the way they are. Why was I born into this family? Why don’t I have more money? Why can’t I find a job? Why do my relationships fail?
Yet the sad thing is, we cannot know why, often because there is no why.
The question of why something has happened can only be answered when a Living Who acts in the midst of our personal hells. Apart from God the world is a mixed-up, meaningless, arbitrary place. It is only our encounter with the Risen Lord that can provide relief. It is for this reason that C.S. Lewis closes Till We Have Faces with the beautiful line, “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away.”
Because the Lord is with us in our joy, and He is with us in our pain. Perhaps the promise of this Gospel reading doesn’t make the bad things any less painful to bear. But our hope remains, and it is firmly placed in the One who opens the eyes of a man born blind, the One who completes what is incomplete and rescues us from the maddening terror of meaninglessness.
What do you think? Have you ever wondered about why bad things happen? Does it help to have hope that things won’t be this way forever? Comment below and let us hear about your big questions!
 John Behr, The Cross Stands, While the World Turns: Homilies for the Cycles of the Year (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2014), p. 86.
 Andrew Root, The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church (Nashville: Abington Press, 2010), p. 142-143, emphasis mine.
 C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold (Orlando: Harcourt Books, 1956), p. 308.
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
Hammerhead Shark: tzeca via Compfight cc
Blame: Simone Lovati via Compfight cc
Mud: Rafael Edwards via Compfight cc
For more on avoiding blame, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on seeing God's love in everything, check out this episode of Be the Bee: