We all know stuff happens in life, and sometimes it happens to us personally and poignantly. In thirty-five years of pastoral ministry, I've seen illness and disease, suicide and murder, natural disasters and deadly accidents. By virtue of being a pastor, I'm with people during the best and worst moments of their lives. But pastor or not, anyone can see we're all under sustained stress and strain; and during the worst of times we can't help asking the most natural question in the world: "Why?"
No one has all the answers to the "whys" of life, but the best answers come from Jesus of Nazareth. He was always honest about human suffering, unfailingly compassionate, and doggedly optimistic. That's one reason the world is attracted to his teaching. Yet he was often unpredictable in his approach. As C. S. Lewis indicated, he is not a tame Lion.
Consider the time Jesus solved a problem by spitting. This story encompasses the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John, when the Lord and his disciples came across a man blind from birth. The disciples wanted to know the reason for his misfortune. "Rabbi," they asked, "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered from a different perspective: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." To paraphrase: "This person's affliction isn't a direct punishment for specific sin; these are simply the things that happen in a fallen world. But God can work it for good if you'll keep watching."
Gathering a pool of saliva in his mouth, Jesus spat on the ground, stooped down, and stirred up a little poultice of mud. With gentle fingers, he spread the mixture over the eyelids of the sightless man and told him to wash it off in the nearby Pool of Siloam. The Bible says, "So the man went and washed, and came home seeing."
Don't ask me why Jesus chose this method of healing. The oddness of the miracle, I think, speaks to its authenticity; and it shows the infinite variety of means in which the Lord resolves difficulties in our lives. But the underlying lesson is the redemptive power of the Savior. Later our Lord's mouth would be parched on the cross, and his blood shed. Within his death and subsequent resurrection is the power to reverse the negatives of life and impart spiritual eyesight to our blurred vision.
Whenever we find ourselves in an uncomfortable place in life, we instinctively ask, as the disciples did of the blind man, "What went wrong? How did we get into this mess? How can we get out?" But our perspective changes when we reframe the question and ask: "How can God be glorified in this situation? How can the works of God be displayed in me?" When God's name is glorified despite our suffering and His works are displayed in our lives, everything has redemptive value. Our whys begin to find answers, good emerges from evil, and miracles are molded from the mud.
None of this is processed quickly, which is why most of the ninth chapter of John describes the emerging faith of the formerly blind man. When questioned by the authorities, the fellow struggled to answer: The man they call Jesus made some mud... I don't know... He put mud on my eyes... He is a prophet... Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know... If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.
But he never wavered in his most self-evident fact: One thing I know--I was blind but now I see.
I don't have all the answers to my burdens. Sometimes my spirits falter and my problems defy solutions. But I haven't yet faced a time when I couldn't sing: "I once was lost but now I'm found; was blind but now I see."
By the end of the chapter, the man in John 9 had become a full-fledged Christ follower and God worshipper. One of the most pitiful men in Jerusalem became overnight one of the most praised-filled and prayerful. In a multitude of ways, the same can happen to us. This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. In my book on Romans 8:28, The Promise, I list a variety of verses throughout the Bible that assures us this is so.
• Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good."
• Hezekiah said after his serious illness, "It was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish" (Isaiah 38:17).
• The apostle Paul said of his imprisonment, "What has happened to me has actually served to advance the Gospel" (Philippians 1:12).
• The patriarch Job admitted, "Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance," or as Eugene Peterson put it in his paraphrase: "Just wait, this is going to work out for the best" (Job 13:16).
• Ephesians 1:11 talks about "the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will."
• Romans 8:28 says: "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him."
Christ's mission was redemptive, and in redeeming our souls for eternity he also redeems our situations in life--all of them--"all things." If just by spitting the Savior can heal the eyes of a man in the Gospels, consider what his death and resurrection can do for you and me now. When His blood dripped onto the dirt at the foot of the cross, it formed a poultice that helps the entire world see him, and see hope, and see heaven. We're left with an indisputable truth: Only Jesus can take the muddy places of life and mold them into miracles. Only He can keep us singing: "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound...."