Path through hardship can lead to growth, God’s glory

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

—John 9:1-2

The disciples did not ask “Why was he born blind?” They thought they already knew the answer to that question.

According to the moral arithmetic of the time, the sum of one’s deeds showed up in the kind of check life handed you. Hardships came upon “sinners.” The only question left for the disciples was, “Who sinned?”

Like people today who want to minimize risk, the disciples analyzed events like this to guarantee that something similar wouldn’t happen to them (e.g. Job’s friends). Instead, Jesus upends their assumptions and calls them to a divine perspective that challenges them to action.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3).

Nicholas Copernicus was the sixteenth-century Polish astronomer who got in trouble for discovering that Earth was not the center of the universe. Something similar happens to us when God calls us out of ourselves and into a life that furthers His work in our time.

Life has a way of inevitably challenging our careful orbits. The trouble we and others meet forces us to acknowledge what really matters to us: the demanding work of God, or our determination to have a comfortable and secure life on our own terms.

When trouble comes for whatever reason, will we persist in thinking that such things should not happen to us, or will we say, “Why not me?” Will we shrivel in the heat or sink our roots deeper into the resources discovered through perseverance?

I wonder if any of us grows in any significant way apart from hardship. Paul (who was very familiar with suffering) wrote, “We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God … because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).

I know how tempted I am to protect the life I have fashioned for myself. Like the presumptuous man in Christ’s parable who built bigger barns for himself, I forget how my life comes to me one breath and heartbeat at a time.

I also forget how my life is given to me through my interactions with others. I recently read this by Richard Harries, retired bishop of Oxford, England: “Western society has been shaped for too long by the notion that we develop our self by separation from others and asserting our individuality. The opposite is true. It is as we give ourselves to others in love … that our own growth in selfhood takes place. … We become minds and persons only in and through our relationships with other minds and other persons.”

God designed life with a core of joy. Hardship and suffering exist for a time, but in the Father’s wisdom they are paths to something far deeper and more lasting. In Jesus’ company, life breaks through whenever a man or woman who has never seen a rainbow or their mother’s face meets someone who is about the Father’s business.

Russel Jarvis has lived in Hancock County since 1989 and has served as the lead chaplain at Hancock Regional Hospital since August 2003. He enjoys golf, old movies, reading and celebrating life with his wife and children. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.