John 9:1-3 – Born Blind By Design

Last week Jesus taught that His ministry was not about glorifying Himself but the Father.
• We looked at all of the bold claims He made about Himself and His relationship to the Father in John 8 and asked how He could make such a claim.
• We then discovered that both the incarnation and the crucifixion vindicated His claim.
• But, His ministry of self-sacrifice and seeking to glorify the Father instead of Himself left us with another problem.
• He set a very difficult example for us to follow.

In this week’s lesson, Jesus sets another example for us to follow.
• Specifically, how we are to see human suffering.
• And although He is dealing with a deformity from birth in our text today, the principle He teaches has broader applications.

John 9:1–3 (ESV) — 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.

BTW – “As he passed by” what? (Let’s begin with a very small rabbit trail)
• Because later in the text Jesus sends the blind man to wash in the pool of Siloam, we know Jesus was still in Jerusalem.
• And from texts like John 5:1-2 and Acts 3:1-2, we know that typically the needy congregated around the entrance gates to the city.
• So in all likelihood Jesus and His disciples were departing Jerusalem after the Feast of Booths and came upon this blind man at one of Jerusalem’s gates.


John 9:1–2 (ESV) — 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?”

One wonders what the disciples were after with their question.
• They were certainly confident enough in their knowledge to narrow down the options to two.

And because of their misplaced confidence, they committed the logical fallacy called false dilemma – blindness “B” is either due to sin of “X” or sin of “Y”.
• In other words, they were certain sin was the cause.
• The only uncertainty was whose sin was the cause.
• This was nothing new.
• Jewish tradition generally taught that there existed “a direct cause-and-effect relationship between suffering and sin” – Kostenberger.
• Therefore, they asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?

Let’s talk about the false dilemma fallacy briefly.

Typical of the false dilemma fallacy, the disciples assumed they knew the answer before they even asked Jesus the question.
• This makes sense of course because the false dilemma is designed to corral the hearer to the conclusion the questioner has already made.
• In this case, the conclusion desired was that sin caused the man’s blindness.
• But importantly, with sin as the cause, God would also be logically excluded from the equation.
    o “Underlying the disciples’ statement is the concern not to charge God with perpetrating evil on innocent people” – Kostenberger.
• We’ll see, however, that Jesus had something to say about the disciples’ conclusion.

BTW – We need to be aware of the current danger of false dilemmas.
• You can see that the false dilemma can be used a clever trap to beat up on the Christian worldview.
• And let’s also keep in mind that there are certainly times where there is no third choice – Jesus is God or He isn’t, e.g.

False Dilemma - a favorite of the New Atheists:
• In debate after debate, they routinely demand that the listener decide that life is best understood via the reasoned, empirical knowledge of science or the mythology of religion.
• Richard Dawkins, for example, quoting Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy asks us, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"
What is the defeater to this false dilemma?
• As John Lennox points out, Dawkins can reject the fairies but he can’t reject the gardener or there’s no garden.

And a second example, which has a direct bearing on our lesson today, can be found in the conclusion of the following syllogism.
• If God is all loving and good, he would prefer a world in which evil does not exist.
• If God is all powerful, He would create a world without evil.
• But, evil exists.
• Therefore either God is not all powerful or not all loving and good (the false dilemma).

The problem with this conclusion is that it tries to force us to say that God is not really God.
• This is the false dilemma.
• But there is a choice that Jesus shows us in our text today, a third choice, that refutes the conclusion of this syllogism.
What is the defeater, the third choice, to this false dilemma?
• William Lane Craig, puts it as follows, “God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists”.

As we look at Jesus’ own words, we will see one of these “morally sufficient reasons”.


John 9:3 (ESV) — 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

We notice right away that the disciples’ conclusion was wholly false.
• Jesus shot it down entirely, at least in this specific instance.
• This does not mean, however, that sin can’t cause and contribute to physical suffering.
• Numbers 12:10–11 (ESV) — 10 When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous. 11 And Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us because we have done foolishly and have sinned.
• John 5:14 (ESV) — 14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
• 1 Corinthians 11:27, 30 (ESV) — 27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

We also notice something else that seems very difficult to comprehend about Jesus’ words.
• It appears that God caused the man’s blindness.

The Bible itself seems to explicitly endorse this.
• Exodus 4:11 (ESV) — 11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?
• Psalm 139:13 (ESV) — 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

We need to dig into this just a little bit.
• Some fear, like F.F. Bruce, that taking this stance would “be an aspersion on the character of God”.
• Wiersbe agrees with Bruce and says that God did not deliberately make the man blind.
    o They fear that doing so puts God too close to being the cause of evil.
• Others, like James Boice, say about Jesus’ words “…—let us state it frankly—God allowed the man to be born blind so that at this particular moment in his earthly life Jesus might come upon him and cure him and that, as a result, God might receive glory” – James Boice.

How do you see it?
Did the man happen to be born blind because of a birth defect and then Jesus happened to come along and use the man to bring glory to God (F.F. Bruce)?
Or, did God ordain from the very beginning that the man suffer with blindness from the very beginning of His life (Boice)?
Or, is this a false dilemma and is there something else going on we can’t quite understand?
• Whatever the answer, these are the types of questions where we need to be very careful to not assert our feelings and thoughts above the Bible’s revelation.

Something to Consider – Explanation in Purpose not Cause:
John Piper suggests that the text clearly states that the man was born blind by design.
• In suggesting this, He argues that we look at the man’s blindness from another perspective.
• He says Jesus sets the example for the proper perspective from which to address God’s participation in the man’s blindness.

…but that the works of God might be displayed in him
• Jesus’ words reveal that the REAL EXPLANATION of the man’s blindness is to be found not in CAUSES but in the PURPOSES of God.
• The disciples asked about cause and Jesus answered that the cause is purpose.
• Piper paraphrases Jesus’ words to the disciples in this way, “The explanation of the blindness lies not in the past causes but the future purposes” – John Piper.

Jesus didn’t dodge the question.
• He answered it and in so doing showed us how we must seek to reorient our thinking to His thinking.
• Jesus “is saying turn away from your fixation on causality as the decisive explanation of suffering. And [in so doing you will] turn away from any surrender to futility, or absurdity, or chaos, or meaninglessness…and turn to the purposes and plans of God. There is no child and no suffering outside God’s purposes” – John Piper.

Why is this so important to do?
• To speak of purpose as explanation, is to speak of the intents and desires of God for His creation.
• But to speak of cause as explanation, is to reduce the man’s blindness down to nothing more than an unfortunate birth defect.
• This really is no more useful in explaining the man’s blindness than suggesting that natural selection acting on random mutations explains why we are here.
• Both are wrong, and more than that, they are a slight on the sovereignty of God.

Jesus’ teaching in our text is extremely liberating!
• Think about it philosophically for a moment.
• The man’s health was not relative to whatever malfunction happened to his eyes while in the womb.
• And the purpose of his blindness was not relative to what he happened to make of it during the circumstances of his life.
• His health and purpose were grounded securely in the sovereignty and purposes of God!

In fact, even finding the purpose Jesus spoke of requires that we speak of and look to God.
• God has to be part of the equation.
• It requires us to look forward with hope to the fulfillment of His kingdom on earth.
• And it requires that God “be supremely valuable to us. More valuable than health and life” – Piper.
• For if God is not part of the equation and not our “supreme value”, then there is no purpose and hope – only misery, death and random, purposeless mutation.

Let’s look at one more “Explanation in Cause” vs. “Explanation in Purpose” example to help us flesh this out even more.

Going Hungry:
Exodus 16:2–3 (ESV) — 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
• The Israelites used the disciples’ “Explanation Found in Cause” view and came off as ungrateful for God’s salvation from Pharaoh.
• And it led them to look backwards and long for their enslaved past.

– BUT –

Deuteronomy 8:2–3 (ESV) — 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
• But when we take Jesus’ “Explanation Found in Purpose” view, we see that God sought to humble them for their long term good, teach them to depend on God for life, and ultimately point to Jesus Christ!
• God has them looking forward to His grand purposes which are completely grounded in His sovereignty.
• There is no more “morally sufficient” reason for suffering than to point people to dependence on God and to Jesus Christ.

Lessons for us:
• We need to realize that healing is not always God’s purpose for suffering.
• Paul continually prayed for healing from the “thorn in his side” but never got it.
• And God’s purpose for suffering may not be known to us this side of heaven.
• But Jesus wants us to know that suffering’s purpose is not dependent on us.
• We don’t have to try and find purpose in it.
• It is fully secured, grounded and founded in the sovereign purposes of God.