Friday, June 21, 2019

What are the 'Works of God' in John 9?

In the story of the man born blind in John 9, the disciples asked Jesus whether he had sinned or his parents to cause him to be born blind. If you ask the average evangelical Christian to read the first few verses of John 9 and then ask them the question, “Why was the man born blind?,” in many, if not most, cases they will respond, “For God’s glory.” Indeed, if you had asked, “According to this passage of Scripture, why was this man born blind?” they would have the same answer.

Now I have no doubt God’s glory is involved in the lives of those afflicted with various things, and in the life of this man born blind. However, the words “God’s glory” (or any directly relevant variant) just isn’t in the text. In fact, John 9:3 states in part, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” (KJV) “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (NIV, ESV, NASB).

So a relevant question for understanding what’s going on in this text is “what are the works of God in the book of John?” I will suggest the works of God, for John, can be found in the theme of John and in a passage (really, more than one) of John. The theme of the Gospel of John is “believe.” John basically tells us this near the very end of his work, when he says he has written these things so that his audience might believe on the name of Jesus (a theme he repeats in his epistles, specifically 1 John). With this in mind, check out John 6:28-29: “… ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”

These are obviously non-meritorious works (that is, it’s not a belief that earns you salvation), but rather the belief (faith and trust) in the Son of God for eternal life. Following Christ is what John is all about. So what are the works of God in John 9 that this blind man was meant to display? Faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God and God the Son (see John 9:38 for the resolution).

What difference does it make? The main difference is one’s theology of suffering. While belief in Jesus obviously redounds to God’s glory, if you think God has people endure pain and suffering merely for his glory, God simply uses people to attain ends. This devalues God’s creation and, ironically, God himself. Instead, we ought to recognize God does things for his glory, and for our good—and not just instrumentally. Jesus’ purpose in this story is to show his mission—to seek and save that which was lost.

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