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Theodicy: a theological concept you’ve (probably) never heard of but wonder a lot about.

When people (include you and me) ask, “Why would a good, loving God allow such evil in the world?”, we are asking about issues of “theodicy”.  “Theodicy” is a theological term relating to issues of God’s holiness and justice vindicated upon us. 

In practical terms, it refers to the existence of physical and moral evil in light of the existence of a perfect, sinless, and just God.

We find a discussion of theodicy in our passage today, John 9:1-7.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.  

John 9:1-7
New International Version

In this question of theodicy, the disciples—probably the Twelve Apostles—asked if this man’s blindness was a result of his own sin or the sin of his parents.  The assumption was that the only reason he might be suffering was sin.  After all, why would a good, loving, perfect, holy, just, almighty God allow such things otherwise?  Sound familiar?

This was also the generally accepted understanding of the suffering in the world of Jesus’ day: sin.  Specifically, a sin from either you or a member of your family caused your physical suffering.  Therefore, confessing that sin would bring healing.  That was the belief of Jesus’ day.  It’s the belief of some today, too. 

The Apostles were seeking answers to the questions still plaguing us today: why do people suffer the way they do?  Whether we like it or not, life will be hard.  A dear mentor of mine often says, “There are two types of people: those going through trials and those who are about to.”  This is life in a fallen world (Genesis 3).

But Jesus threw a massive wrench into the cogs of their theological understanding of theodicy.  Jesus said, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (verse 3).

This option was also a chastisement to the Apostles. They were to be compassionate servants on people’s suffering, not judges of the source of people’s suffering.

There was an air of self-righteousness in their question.  And the Master made it a teachable moment.

The Biblical reality is this: we are ALL born into sin and certainly a result of the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 is physical ailments.  However, that doesn’t mean ALL physical maladies are the direct result of specific sin in our lives.

Jesus reminds His disciples, they must work while there is still light—that is, while He is still with them.  The darkness would fall when Jesus would be separated from the disciples when He would be lifted up on the cross for our sins.

After correcting the misunderstanding, Jesus proceeds.

Jesus didn’t just perform the miracle (which was a sign proving His identity), but Jesus told the man to act in faith and make his way—with this mud pie in his eyes—to the Pool of Siloam to wash.

This would have been a considerable distance from where he was—it was at the southern end of the city.  It was more than just a little effort to make it to the Pool.  This trip was an exercise in faith. 

And this man born blind had to endure this pain of the mud in his eyes all the way through his healing.

The healing this man received not only gave him sight, it gave glory to Jesus.

How is the Lord using your difficult circumstances to not explain all the pain, but to bring Himself glory and bring you the greatest good?