The other morning as I got ready for work, my thoughts turned as they often do these days to my mom and kidney cancer. Her latest scans show more growth in her lung’s lymph nodes, and she’s having to deal with insurance and ridiculously expensive drugs and decisions about next steps. Maybe this happened because… my mind began to say.
No! My other mind shouted. This just happened. It happened. It happened and I hate it.
I’ve always been one to look for reasons why things happen, as if God is the great conductor of the orchestra score, cuing up crisis like a crescendo, then signaling the caesura while we all pause to catch our breath and clean up after the chaos. Maybe this happened to teach me about empathy. Maybe this happened because of the bad decisions I made before marriage. Maybe this happened as recompense for sins committed.
Other ways we do this include “getting what’s coming to them,” “payback,” “karma’s a bitch,” “all in God’s plan,” “everything happens for a reason,” and so on. Said positively or negatively, it’s all the same coin – someone out there is in control, making things happen so that other things can happen.
But when we do that, we create in the heavens a Master Puppeteer or a Hunger Games Gamemaker, and we make of ourselves pawns living at the whim of a bored Lord.
Maybe this happened because we live in a free world, with rules that get broken, with actions that have consequences, with cells that grow and divide and multiply out of bounds, out of control, out of our hands.
This happened. Things happen. Shit happens. What are we to make of it?
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” (John 9:1-5).
I thought of this passage of Scripture shortly after the inner monologue of my morning makeup routine. Previously, I’ve only thought so far as “neither this man nor his parents sinned so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Here is where my causation theology twisted, took root, and grew. I interpreted these verses as God causing blindness so that others could see, so that God could prove just how great he is.
This seems like a slimy thing for God to do to a man born blind.
The rest of the verse helps me more, now, than my Gamemaster mentality ever did before. The disciples in this passage were focused on who sinned – what happened to cause this tragedy. Who should we blame. Where can we point the finger. Theirs was a position of inaction: they saw the tragedy in the world and looked for the source of what went wrong.
Jesus says forget that. The brokenness in this world is here. Jesus comes to do something about it. “As long as it is day,” he says, “we must do the works of him who sent me.” As long as it is day, we must do the work. We. Jesus demonstrates what that looks like: instead of philosophizing over why this has happened, he spits on the ground, makes mud, and rubs it into the man’s face.
So, go and make mud pies with spit and rub it into people’s faces.
What Jesus models for us is this: give something of yourself (spit), use the resources available to you (dirt of the earth), to address the needs of those with whom we come into contact (blind man, disciples, Pharisees). And as the story of the Good Samaritan teaches us, those people extend beyond our circle of friends and family, to the neighbor, to the stranger, to the criminal, and to the foreigner.
Everything that happens, broken or beautiful, is an opportunity for the grace of God to be made more evident, through us. As God’s instrument, as carriers of a Holy Spirit, we have power to heal and to reveal God’s glory in all things. But we must choose to be bearers of that light. We must choose to be people of action. We are God’s mechanism for making beautiful things out of dust.
What does that mean when your mom has a terminal disease with an unknown end date? You try to make beautiful things happen. Love and hope and laughter are embedded into every interaction. Combine the stuff you are made of with the dirt of the earth and do whatever will speak Love. This happened. And now we are jarred from the monotony of our regular lives, awakened to the lilies of the field. How short they bloom. “Night is coming, when no one can work,” Jesus says. “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The Light of the world is still in the world. I am the light of the world. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Shine. Be. Act. Love.