And his disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
—John 9:2-3, NIV
While watching the Olympics on television, I was impressed at how many of the competing athletes had overcome or continued to suffer from serious diseases. There was a figure skater, if I am not mistaken, who was born with club feet. There was another athlete whose training was interrupted by three months of mononucleosis. It seemed that every athlete had some special problem or handicap or hardship that had to be overcome on the road to Albertville.
In God’s spiritual Olympics, it isn’t much different. Over the years of writing this Bible Study, quite a lot of you have confided things in me. Some of you have led lives that would make St. Augustine’s Confessions look like high tea with the Queen. Some of you have been the victims of evil, some of you have suffered terrible diseases, some of you have had to struggle with the senseless illness and suffering of your infant children. Others have been abandoned by friends and betrayed by close confidences. Some of you are beset and bedeviled with emotional problems from within.
It is fashionable in some quarters to believe that when you become a Christian, you become a member of some sort of elite leisure class, that God gives you a credit card with an unlimited line of credit, which you can invoke to shower blessings and honors and riches and healing upon yourselves—but most of you live quite differently from that. Most of you have a spirituality that was forged in hardship, tempered with adversity, and annealed in pain and struggle.
Most of you are saints of God, not because you were raised in a Christian home right next door to Wally and the Beaver, not because you never suffered a bruise or lost your temper, but because you have decided in defiance of evil and in protest of injustice that you will rise above the sins of your flesh to serve the Lord your God! By your spiritual life you defy the universe and all the powers of evil to drag you down again, for you shall live to serve your God and King! You have been knocked down and beaten up, but you rise again and again to serve the Lord!
Occasionally though, we all slink down into a chair in depression and bemoan our painful existence. We ask Jesus a similar question, but not about some ragged man in a crowd, but about ourselves, “Oh, Lord,” we sigh, “Why was I born with this problem? Why must I struggle with this life? When will I ever please you? Was it because I sinned, or did my parents sin in raising me, that I suffer as I do?”
And Jesus answers us, “It was neither that you sinned, nor your parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in you.”
And then we realize what glory God has in store for us! For if we ski over the finish line after having been given every advantage and having suffered no adversity, our victory is empty and our glory is shallow: we will receive only scattered, polite applause. Under such circumstances, where is dedication? Where is perseverance? Where is determination? But if we come through many toils and snares, if we overcome many unfair disadvantages, if we serve under adverse conditions and leap over many obstacles, how loud is the applause when we reach the goal! How great is the admiration we will receive! How great the glory we shall receive! How much more glorified is God, that His chosen ones have struggled and prevailed!
Neither athletes nor saints are borne of privilege. Neither receives glory without hardship or pain. But the athlete’s career is soon ended and the glory is soon forgotten. You have chosen an infinite career with an eternal glory; what’s a little hardship on the way?