The Suffering Servant as the Leper Messiah

My First Principle of Recovery is “God is for your recovery and healing, not against it.” The scripture I connected it to is Isaiah 53:3-6. It is part of the fourth suffering servant song (Isa 52:13-53:12).

In the last post, I introduced the suffering servant in Second Isaiah. In the first song, the servant counter-intuitively brings justice by patiently and quietly enduring injustice. Second Isaiah addressed the Jews in Exile, letting them know their judgment had passed and they would soon be allowed to return home to Jerusalem.

The Fourth Song: He Was Despised and Rejected

This is the longest of the servant songs. I think in this song, more than anywhere else in Second Isaiah, the Jews really begin to make sense of the suffering they have been through. Their suffering has led to justice, not only for themselves. It has taught justice to the nations who persecuted them in ways nothing else could.

I won’t go through the whole thing. But in the part I am commenting on, we hear from the nations (Gentiles) who saw the Jews in captivity and are astonished at their reversal of fortune. Here is a sample of what they say.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

(Isaiah 53:3-6 ESV)

He/him refers to the Jewish people personified in the suffering servant. The nations despised and rejected him. They thought he was stricken, smitten by God. (Certainly, many of the Jews thought that about themselves during Exile.) But somehow, the nations have come to understand the servant’s suffering has brought peace, healing, and forgiveness for their transgressions and iniquities.

In the song from 42:1-4, the servant quietly and patiently endures suffering and as a result brings justice. Is it justice for himself (the Jews) or for the nations who oppressed him? It’s not entirely clear but seems to be for himself. It says he would endure until he brings forth justice. But in this fourth song, that has already happened. The servant suffered to the point that people hid their faces from him, because his face was so marred he no longer looked human (52:14).

We see the startling claim that the servant underwent this suffering because the LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all. He took the punishment that should have been theirs. They went astray in the injustice they committed against him (53:8). But instead of fighting back, he patiently endured. And through his silent witness, the Gentiles who oppressed the Jews have seen the error of their ways and repented. In this way, he brings justice to all nations. As my HarperCollins NRSV Study Bible says,

“Israel’s suffering suggested God had rejected it. Now, however, contrary to the nations’ original impression, they see that the servant’s suffering was vicarious, God’s surprising way of restoring all people to himself” (cf. 42:2-3; Mat 8:17; 1 Pet 2:22-25).

(HC 53:4-6 footnote)

And that ultimately was God’s goal, to restore all people to himself—not just the Jews but the Gentiles, even the Gentiles who oppressed them. Even the Babylonians? Yes, even the Babylonians. By recognizing God’s hand in restoring the Jews as a people and a nation, they repent of their injustice and receive forgiveness for their sins. So none of the Jews’ suffering in Exile was in vain. They could not see any purpose in it before, but now they can.

Notice that God did not give this message to them until God could point to clear signs that their redemption was already beginning to happen. Before then, they would not have been able to hear this. They were angry with God. If God made a promise, they would not believe it until they saw it. So God did two things. 1) God waited until they could see the promise beginning to happen, so they could believe it; and 2) God told them ahead of time how it would ultimately be fulfilled—through Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa 45). So when Cyrus told the Jews anyone who wanted to could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city, they knew it was the hand of God.

He Grew Up Like a Young Plant

The second verse of Isaiah 53 says this. “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground.” Many people believe the reference to the root and young plant connects the servant with the line of David. Almost as soon as the hope of a Messiah began, the Jews believed the Messiah would be from the root of the Davidic dynasty. They had seen that dynasty come to an end (with Exile). But the promise here is the Messiah would reestablish it, like when a tree is cut down, then from the root, the tree is reborn and grows out of the stump like a young plant. I don’t know if the Jews in Second Isaiah’s time would have made that connection, but they might have noticed the similarity with this in First Isaiah.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. … On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

(Isa 11:1, 10 NRS)

They certainly would have known the stump of Jesse and the root of Jesse referred to the Davidic dynasty. Could they really be saying the Messiah and the Suffering Servant are one and the same? That appears to be a contradiction in terms.

The Servant as Messiah

First Isaiah spoke of justice coming through a Righteous King from David’s lineage. Second Isaiah spoke of justice coming through the Suffering Servant. Christians believe Jesus was the Messiah because he fulfilled both roles. Modern Jews reject that, because they expect the Messiah to be the Righteous King but not the Suffering Servant. That appeared to have been the disciples’ expectation as well. Every time Jesus talked about how he had to suffer and die at the hands of sinners, they either told him they would not allow it, or they changed the subject. They thought his being the Messiah meant he would be the Righteous King who would reclaim the throne of David and throw off the yoke of Roman occupation. It appears from reading the Gospels the crowds who followed Jesus expected it too.

So I was surprised when I found Rabbinic Judaism actually connects the Messiah with the Suffering Servant. The beginning of Second Isaiah’s song says,

See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.

(Isa 52:13 NRS)

When the Targum Jonathan quotes this, it says “… my servant messiah shall prosper. …” This makes the connection explicit where before it was only implicit.

The Rabbis also point to this verse from Ruth:

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.

(Rut 2:14)

The Midrash Rabbah connects this verse with the servant messiah.

Another explanation: He is speaking of king Messiah; ‘Come hither,’ draw near to the throne; ‘and eat of the bread,’ that is, the bread of the kingdom; ‘and dip thy morsel in the vinegar,’ this refers to his chastisements, as it is said, ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities’ [Isa 53:3].

If it seems like a stretch to connect Boaz’s invitation to Ruth to dip her bread in vinegar with the chastisements of the servant messiah, remember Ruth and Boaz were the great-grandparents of David. Everything they did was connected to the Messiah. And as I said before, considering the Rabbis have way more experience reading and interpreting the Hebrew scriptures than you or I will ever have, I can’t dismiss what they say.

A Leper Messiah

Here is my favorite connection, from the Babylonian Talmud. Isaiah 53:4 says,

Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.

(Isa 53:4 NRS)

The Talmud comments,

The Messiah, what is his name? The Rabbis say, The Leper Scholar, as it is said, ‘surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted…’.

(Sanhedrin 98b)

Where the text says, “… we accounted him stricken,” the Talmud quotes it as, “… we did esteem him a leper ….” That was even stronger than “stricken,” because the ultimate punishment from God was leprosy, a sure sign you were smitten and afflicted of God. I find the “leper scholar” an interesting term. Whoever the Messiah is, he will be a scholar (which makes me feel good), meaning he will diligently study and know the scriptures.

The leprosy might have been metaphorical, but as a metaphor it would refer to someone who people believed God had smitten and was punishing, when in fact God was pleased with the servant because he willingly suffered to save others and bring forth justice. The Messiah, the Rabbis say, is also one they called “The Leper Scholar.” Of course, I can’t hear that without thinking of the leper messiah in “Ziggy Stardust.”

“… like a leper messiah,” 2:25

David Bowie said he created the character of Ziggy Stardust as a way to help him cope with mental health issues in his family and the madness of the Rock and Roll lifestyle. He was quoted as saying,

One puts oneself through such psychological damage in trying to avoid the threat of insanity. As long as I could put those psychological excesses into my music and into my work, I could always be throwing it off.

Ziggy Stardust,” AZ Lyrics

Rabbi Bowie?

Isn’t it interesting that Bowie created this character who helped him avoid insanity, called the character a “leper messiah” in his eponymous song, and thousands of years before, the Rabbis compared the Messiah of scripture to a leper. Like a leper, he was despised and rejected. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Isa 53:2 NRS). Also like a leper, people thought his suffering, affliction, and pain meant God rejected him, and therefore he was smitten and punished by God.

But God called him “the righteous one” (53:11), because he willingly took on our pain, suffering, sickness, affliction, sins and iniquities, by making himself an offering for sin (Isa 53:9, 10). They thought God had forsaken him, but “it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain” (53:10), not to punish him for his sin, but to save us from our sin and the brokenness and injustice that comes with it.

And out of his affliction and pain, he would see light, because he would lead many to righteousness, forgiveness, and healing (53:11-12). To people like the exiled Jews, who were first beginning to see the light at the end of their dark night of the soul, the suffering servant (or leper messiah) was the perfect savior.

The First Principle of Recovery

Perhaps my experience with mental illness makes Second Isaiah’s leper messiah the perfect savior for me as well. Having recently come out of my own dark night of the soul, I appreciate his suffering so much more. I think I understand now in a way I never have, God not only sent the leper messiah to save us. In Jesus, God became the leper messiah who bore the brokenness of many and made intercession for sinners and all of us who like sheep have gone astray and turned each one to our own way.

Why would God do that? So our relationship with God could be restored. That is good news for everyone who knows they are broken: mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. And it brings me back to my first principle for recovery: A god who is willing to do that for us surely is for our recovery and healing, not against it.

A Deal for You

Book cover Dark Nights of the Soul on rustic table
Winner Nonfiction, Writer’s Digest Self-Published Ebooks, available on Kindle through January for $0.99. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B083JNXHZF

My book, Dark Nights of the Soul: Reflections on Faith and the Depressed Brain, won the Nonfiction category in Writer’s Digest’s Self-Published Ebook Awards. In honor of this, it will be available on Kindle for only $0.99 throughout the month of January! (You can also get it in paperback if you prefer). I am humbled, amazed, and grateful. Thank you to Writer’s Digest and to anyone who reads it.

The man born blind, a character study

I have a confession to make. I haven’t been good about keeping up my writing, at least fiction. Since I finished a novel manuscript a few years ago, I have hardly written any fiction. I’ve been writing mostly about writing itself and Biblical reflections. I’ve told myself it’s research, because the area I most want to write is Biblical Fiction. In order to help me bridge the gap between fiction and Bible study, I’m going to do a little character study. Fiction requires compelling characters. That is what I’m using this research for, so I can picture the scene and try to get inside these characters’ heads. This will be longer than most of my blog posts so far.

In this study, I’m using one of my favorite unnamed characters in the Bible, the man born blind in John 9. I’m also hoping to make these episodes into a podcast. Sounds exciting, huh? Without further ado…

Who sinned and caused this man to be born blind?

In John chapter 9, Jesus and the disciples encountered a man born blind. Just prior to this, Jesus had an intense debate with the Jewish leaders in the Temple (Joh 8:12-58). This man would have been sitting somewhere begging, because there was very little work a blind man could do. Clearly, this was an organic condition. It doesn’t say whether he was partially blind or completely blind. The impression I get from reading it is he was totally blind. In first century Judaism, if a child was born blind, it had to be punishment for sin. Either the parents sinned, or somehow the child sinned while it was in the womb. This is why the disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Joh 9:2 NRS).

How can a child in the womb sin, you ask? Let’s say, for example, the child’s mother goes into a pagan temple while pregnant. In their minds, the child participates in that sin, even though clearly he/she had no choice in the matter. There were also ways a child could sin in the womb without the parents’ knowledge. That’s all speculation of course. I would even call it superstition. The thing about superstitions is, if you believe it, it’s not a superstition to you. Jesus’ answer says a lot, not only about the fallacy of that belief but also his mission in the world.

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

(Joh 9:3)

First, he addresses the question of “who sinned?” As so often happened with Jesus, when they presented a question in the form of “Which is it, A or B?” he answered, “C, none of the above.” The man’s blindness, he tells them, has nothing to do with anyone’s sin, not the man’s or his parents’. Then he told them God did have a purpose in having him born blind. The purpose was that God’s works might be revealed in him.

This is admittedly difficult for many people to take, the idea that God would cause misfortune on someone, because there is some mysterious purpose behind it. However, in this case, that mystery would not remain hidden much longer. God’s works were about to be revealed, not in the man’s blindness, but in what Jesus was about to do for him.

Then Jesus said something else that spoke to the nature of his mission.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

(Joh 9:4-5 NRS).

I think here, he hinted that the miracles and healings he was doing would not continue much longer. Why? Because this was the only time in history when the eternal Word (in Greek logos) walked the earth as a flesh and blood human being. That would not last forever. Night was coming. He knew his mission would end at the cross. Until that day, however, he and his disciples had to work the works of him who sent him. Notice he stresses the words work and works. That is going to be important later in the story. For now, let’s continue and see what he does for the man.

Where did you get that mud?

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).

Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

(Joh 9:6-7 NRS)

How did Jesus heal him? He spat on the ground, made mud from the dirt and saliva, spread it on the man’s eyes, and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Is there any indication that Jesus was doing this in response to the man’s faith? None whatsoever. The man did not ask to be healed. I bet he didn’t even know it was Jesus rubbing mud on his eyes because, hello! He was blind! He was just sitting in the same spot he had sat begging every day for all of his adult life; and all of a sudden, some fool comes along and rubs mud on his eyes. Why would anyone do this to me? Who is this man rubbing mud on me? What kind of man takes advantage of a blind man like this? Do you think this is funny?

Jesus tells him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.”

“Oh, I’m going to wash this off, all right, because that’s what I do when someone covers me with mud. Where did you get the mud from anyway? Wait a minute! Did I hear you spit? Oooohhh! You mangy dog!” he wags his finger at Jesus. “Don’t you go anywhere, because after I wash this mud off, I’ve got some words for you!”

I’m sure after washing the mud off, he would have given Jesus an earful. Except…after he washed his eyes, he saw a shimmering light. “What’s this? I know it’s water. This is what water feels like,” as he dipped his hands in it. I imagine he scooped some up in his hands and let it fall back into the pool. “Is this what water looks like? Wow, this pool is beautiful. I’ve been to this pool many times, but I’ve never seen it before. I’ve never seen anything before! I see people all around. I think they’re people. I don’t know, because I’ve never seen people before. What’s your name?”

“Simon.”

“Simon! I can see you! I can see all the people around here. I can see the sun. I can see the Temple over there, where they won’t let me in because I’m blind. Was blind.” He inhales with mouth and eyes wide open as the realization sets in. “I was blind. But now I see. Where is the man who did this? I’ve got some words for him!”

Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?

He did not understand how he was healed. He did not know it was Jesus putting mud on his eyes until after he was healed. He didn’t even know Jesus was healing him, because Jesus never told him why he was putting mud on his eyes. Jesus had his own reasons for healing this man, whether he believed in him or not. You’ve heard of “faith healing?” Call this a non-faith healing.

Some people around the man noticed him, and they were like, “Look at that man! He can see!”

“So what?”

“He’s the blind man who used to beg over in that corner. I saw him every day as I passed on my way home from the Temple.”

So John tells us,

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

Some were saying, “It is he.”

Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.”

He kept saying, “I am the man.”

(Joh 9:8-9 NRS)

I picture this debate going like, “That’s the blind man who sat there and begged.” “It can’t be him. Look, he’s not blind.” “It sure looks like him.” “That’s it. It’s someone else who looks like him.”

And the man is like, “Hey, I’m right here. You can ask me.”

“Are you the man?”

“Yes, I am the man.”

So then John tells us,

But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

They said to him, “Where is he?”

He said, “I do not know.”

(Joh 9:10-12 NRS)

Yeah, the man couldn’t point out Jesus in the crowd, because he never saw Jesus. (He was blind, remember?). So they take him to the Pharisees. They are the people who are supposed to know God and the scriptures better than anyone, so maybe they can make sense of this. Because if a man who was blind now sees, God must have had something to do with it. But the Pharisees have already had some controversies with Jesus, and this is not going to change their minds.

The work of a “sinner”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

(Joh 9:13-14 NRS)

Uh oh! That is going to be a problem. Making clay and putting it to use is defined in the Traditions of the Elders as work. Every Jew knew working on the Sabbath was forbidden. That was not a minor commandment. It was one of the Top Ten. Jesus has already gotten into trouble with the Pharisees because he healed a paralytic on the Sabbath in chapter 5. It’s like he’s doing everything he can to thumb his nose at them. But actually, he explained earlier why he needed to do this, even though it was the sabbath, in verses 4-5.

“We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

(Joh 9:4-5 NRS)

This is why he stressed doing the works of God while it is day. By working the works of God, he broke the sabbath. Why? Was it just to antagonize the Pharisees? No. He said, As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. But he would not be “in the world” for much longer. Soon, he would be crucified, dead, and buried. He would not be able to contact sick people in such direct fashion after that. So when he saw an opportunity to both heal a man born bind, and teach an important lesson to his disciples, he had to take it, sabbath or not.

Cognitive Dissonance: A great way to create tension in your story

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”

But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”

And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

(Joh 9:15-17 NRS)

The Pharisees are experiencing something called Cognitive Dissonance. This is a condition, usually temporary, where the mind is stressed because it’s trying to hold two facts together and knows both of those facts cannot be true at the same time. Fact 1: Jesus opened the eyes of a man born blind. Fact 2: Jesus broke the Sabbath. From fact 1, they should conclude that he was sent from God. From fact 2, they should conclude that he is a sinner. They cannot both be true. Either he was sent from God, or he is a sinner. How they should react to him depends on which side they pick.

For the man, there is no dissonance. He opened my eyes. Only God can do that, so he was sent from God. But…. No buts! He was sent from God. Period.

The first impulse in Cognitive Dissonance is to deny the fact you don’t like. Fake news, the Pharisees say. But they had to investigate. Probably someone suggested, “Why don’t we ask his parents? They should know if he was born blind, because, you know, they were there.” Here’s how that went.

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight  and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

(Joh 9:18-21 NRS)

John says “the Jews” did not believe, but sometimes John refers to the Jewish religious authorities who opposed Jesus as “the Jews.” Most of the authorities continued to oppose Jesus, because they saw him threatening their most cherished traditions. But there is no way everyone who was there “did not believe.” I guarantee you some of the Jews who were there came to faith in Jesus because of this. How could they not? Some of you, if you saw this happen, would come to faith as well. The religious authorities, here represented by the Pharisees, were another matter entirely.

If they could have proven the man really wasn’t born blind, the debate would have been over. But his own parents, who would know, confirmed he was their son, and he was born blind. Their level of cognitive dissonance is off the charts now. What will they do?

Though I was blind, now I see

The Pharisees investigated the case of a man who was born blind and now sees. He claimed he saw because Jesus opened his eyes. That’s a problem for them, because they have already declared “anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (Joh 9:22 NRS). Why? Because he was a “sinner.” Why? Because he healed on the Sabbath, and he claimed to be equal to God (Joh 5:9-10; 17-18). To be fair, no Jew should ever believe any man or woman who claims to be equal to God. But if he is a sinner, how could he have opened the eyes of a blind man? {COGNITIVE DISSONANCE ALERT}.

If they could prove this miracle was fake, there would be no reason for anyone to believe he was the Messiah. But their own investigation proved it was real. {COGNITIVE DISSONANCE ALERT}. What do they do now? We pick up the story at John 9:24-25.

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” {That’s how they resolve their cognitive dissonance}

He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 

(Joh 9:24-25 NRS)

This is not only a story of a blind man who receives sight. It’s also a story of willful blindness. They can’t acknowledge Jesus had any role in this miracle, so instead they insist the man give glory to God. I think it’s good to give glory to God when you receive a blessing, but sometimes people use that to avoid giving credit where credit is due. In this case, they “give glory to God” so they won’t have to give Jesus, a “sinner,” any credit for it.

For the man, they could call Jesus a sinner all day. Maybe they were right, maybe they were wrong. There is only one fact he knows for sure. He was blind, and now he sees.

John continues,

They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

(Joh 9:26-27 NRS)

I think at this point, the man recognizes the Pharisees are just being willfully blind, and he is not willing to suffer fools gladly. And I wish I could have been there to see the look on their faces when he asked, Do you also want to become his disciples? Continuing, verses 28-29,

Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from” 

(Joh 9:28-29 NRS)

No one in this story would dispute that God had spoken to Moses. Not this man, not any of the witnesses, and certainly not Jesus. He had already told the Jewish religious leaders,

“Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

(Joh 5:45-47 NRS)

That was a bold claim from Jesus. That Moses, who wrote the Torah, on which all scripture is based, wrote about him. Christians today are so used to hearing Jesus fulfilled Old Testament scriptures that I wonder if we understand how shocking this statement would have been to first century Jews. There was no way they should have believed anyone who said something like this without evidence. In this case, however, that evidence was standing right before them in a man who was born blind and now sees. Let’s see how that evidence responds to the Pharisees’ objections.

Here is an astonishing thing!

The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes”

(Joh 9:30 NRS)

Okay, I have to interrupt here for a moment to say, I love this man! I think he might be my favorite unnamed character in the Bible. He was a walking, talking “no B.S. zone.” He’s like, “How shocking! You don’t know where he comes from! Forget that he opened my eyes. I thought that proved he was sent from God. But you don’t know where he comes from. Well, that totally discredits him. I was going to become his disciple, but if you don’t know where he comes from, well, I was clearly a fool for thinking that.” You do get he’s being sarcastic, right?

Then he drops the sarcasm and gets to some serious theology, continuing from verse 31,

“We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”

(Joh 9:31-33 NRS)

God does not listen to sinners. God listens to those who worship God and obey God’s will. If he were not from God, he could do nothing. You didn’t need any advanced theological training to know this. Every Jew knew this. This was Judaism 101. Shabbas school even. If he were not from God, he could do nothing, so look at what he just did. He opened the eyes of a person born blind.

This was not your run of the mill, ordinary miracle. This was something no one had ever done since the world began. In Jesus’ time, there were others who claimed to be miracle workers and healers. But none of them had done anything close to this. Search through history, and you won’t find anyone who had done this. No angel, no prophet, none of the patriarchs, not Moses, no miracle worker, no healer, no magician, no one has ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. So if he’s a sinner, you tell me how he opened my eyes.

Quite a convincing argument, don’t you think? He’s going toe-to-toe in a theological debate with the best theologians in Jerusalem, and he is crushing it. Did I mention I love this man?

Is this enough to change the minds of the religious authorities?

They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

(Joh 9:34 NRS)

So they made good on their threat to throw anyone out of the synagogue who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (9:22). What did they mean that he was “born entirely in sins”? Remember back in Verse 2 when the disciples asked Jesus whether the man sinned or his parents? That was the common belief about children born with blindness, deafness, or some other disability. The child was born in sins, either because of the parents, or because the child somehow sinned in the womb. And again, I’ll remind you Jesus said sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness (Joh 9:3). But the man would have been treated with that attitude all his life, so I don’t think he felt any great loss when they drove him out [of the synagogue]. And if he was eager to be Jesus’ disciple before, he was all the more eager after that. Time for Jesus to reenter the scene.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

(Joh 9:35-38 NRS)

As I said before, no Jew should have worshiped Jesus, called him Lord, or believed he was the Son of God, or the Son of Man for that matter. Not without evidence, and it would have to be evidence way beyond a reasonable doubt. This man received exactly that, so it was appropriate for him to worship Jesus and believe him when he called himself the Son of Man. He’s like, “Son of Man? Who is he? Just tell me, and I’ll believe. In fact, I’ll believe anything you tell me. I’ll believe anything you want me too. Why shouldn’t I? I was blind, and you opened my eyes.”

This man knew how to put two and two together. If Jesus were not from God, he could not have opened my eyes. I know we are taught not to have any gods except the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But he would not ask me to do anything God would disapprove of. If he did, God would not have let him do what he did for me.

Summary

There are a lot of unnamed characters in the Bible. Usually, we don’t get much of their personality. They are mostly props or role-players. This man’s personality leaps off the page. I love how he debates the Pharisees. I keep thinking what must it have felt like if you couldn’t see and someone just started putting mud over your eyes, no explanations. You think he has pulled some kind of cruel joke on you. But then you wash the mud off, and you can see. Even though he was a Jew, John tells his story in a way that his worship of Jesus near the end of the chapter makes sense.

Nothing annoys me more about Christian or Biblical fiction than when someone converts to faith in Christ, but the author does not make it feel authentic. There is nothing inauthentic about this man. In one chapter, he went from blindness, to seeing, to believing, to worshiping, and every bit of it felt real. Like I said, he is a walking, talking “no B.S.” zone. I know it’s not right to call him a fictional character, but I would be proud to have a character like him in one of my novels or short stories.

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Love post – First Anniversary

 

If I wrote a book titled How to Meet and Marry Your Soulmate in Just 50 Years, do you think it would sell? I think back to myself at eighteen. He would not have bought that book. He needed God to come through much sooner than that.

At eighteen, I prayed, believing I would receive the wife that God had matched to me, because the Bible promised it. What scriptures are there to promise a wife?

 

It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18).

She is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone (Gen 2:24).

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD (Prov. 18:22).

Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD (Prov. 19:14).

It is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor. 7:9).

 

Oh, yeah. That last one. I was eighteen years old. You know what it’s like at that age. Hormones were driving a lot of these prayers. But more than that I wanted to find my rib, the woman who would be flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone. In other words, my soulmate. If you want God to introduce you to your Miss Right, you can’t settle for Miss Right-Now. At least that was what I was taught. I wanted to finish college and get a career before I got married. There was some waiting involved. I understood that and accepted it. I figured it would be worth it if I married the woman God intended for me.

But the waiting was much longer than I thought it would be, and it took a toll on my relationship with God. I blamed God for all the years of frustration, opportunities missed, and the ticking of my biological clock. You don’t hear men talk about that, but at a certain age I saw my potency slipping away from me. How was I going to have children? If God were going to answer that prayer of mine, you’d think God would have made it happen in time that my (still nonexistent) wife and I could have made that choice. God promised to grant the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). I listened to preachers who set up those expectations for me, and it just made the disappointment greater.

 

Why is the game of love so hard to win?

 

There are some things I understand now that I did not understand then. My mom summed it up when she told me, “You will never find another woman who’s a better fit for you than Fran.” She never said that about any of my previous girlfriends. And with good reason. She was right on both counts, as mothers usually are.

When you are with the right person, you don’t have to talk yourself into it. You don’t have to make excuses for all the ways they make you miserable. The thought of spending my whole life with other girlfriends made me scared. There was too much drama with them. With Fran, the thought of spending the rest of my life with her made me happy. More and more, I got the feeling she was what had been missing in my life. She was both my true love and my best friend. In other words, my soulmate. I had a hard time understanding why my other relationships did not work out. Now, I know. I just did not know what it looked like to be with the right woman until I met Fran.

It was about thirty years later when the prayers of that eighteen-year-old were finally answered. In all that time, I’ve learned the game of trying to find the love of your life is so unfair. You don’t know what it looks like to be with her until you actually meet her. Before then, the rush of being in love can easily fool you. With all my previous girlfriends, there were moments when I thought they could be the one, but we just were not good matches for the long term. Eventually I figured that out. That saved me from marrying the wrong person. But each time it left me frustrated, wondering when will I meet the right person. For a long time, I resented God for making me wait so long.

People would tell me, “It will happen when you don’t expect it.” I did not see how that was possible. Every time I met a new woman, I noticed two things: Is she attractive, and does she have a wedding ring. I got some of them to go out with me, but it never worked out. Eventually, I got so frustrated I gave up completely. So God said, “It is not good for man to be alone”? Apparently God did not include me in that. I resigned myself to a fate of being single my whole life. And then I met her, and fate changed its mind.

Newlyweds

 

What I like most so far is how natural it feels for us to be together. I don’t think about being married the same way I don’t think about breathing. It’s just the way it’s supposed to be. Occasionally, people will remind me, though. Friends or family will ask, “How’s married life?” “Great,” I tell them with a smile. When we tell people we are newlyweds, they are always happy for us. That has been fun. I figured we could keep it going for the first year. A year has passed, and I’m wondering if I can still keep it going.

When something feels natural, though, the danger is in taking it for granted. If anything good has come of waiting so long, it’s that I think it’s impossible to take her for granted. We went to a writer’s group in Buford, Georgia back in May. I talked to one of the men there. He said he has been married fourteen years and still considers himself a newlywed. So my plan now is to keep thinking of us as newlyweds, at least for thirteen more years. And then . . . maybe another fourteen years?

collage of proposal

Show Don’t Tell

 

Writers hear the saying “Show don’t tell” all the time. What that means is you don’t tell what the character is feeling. You show it in their actions, physical response, facial expressions, body language, etc. Instead of saying, “He was worried,” or “He was anxious,” you might say, “His brow furrowed.” Fran says I had a furrowed brow when we first met. Now that furrow is gone. What does that show you? For me, it shows how much my relationship with God has healed.

It also shows I didn’t know how much I needed her until I knew her.

Fran with caramel apples we made

What if?

 

If there was one thing I could have changed, it would be having a child or two of my own, in my thirties or maybe late twenties. That ship has sailed. It’s highly unlikely at this point that we would have any children together, unless God pulls an Isaac on us. And I don’t think I would have the energy or desire for it now.

I had no idea that what I was asking for was harder than I thought. I wanted a relationship and a marriage the way it was in the Garden before the Fall. She was flesh of his flesh, bone of his bone. They matched on every level: spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and physically. If I had just asked for a wife because it is better to marry than to burn, maybe it would not have taken so long. I might have been able to get married in college to satisfy those yearnings. But I asked for more.

When I got married, I wanted it to be right in every way, and I wanted it to be for life. The vast majority of couples, when they get married, don’t think they’ll get divorced. They think it will be for life. And yet, over 50% of marriages end in divorce. Why? I don’t have the answer, and I’m not in a position to judge anyone. If I had married one of my previous girlfriends, I’m sure we would have ended up divorced. I just didn’t want my marriage to be part of that statistic. That meant I needed a woman I connected with on every level.

What if God had said to my eighteen-year-old self, “I can give you your heart’s desire. It’s going to take time before it is right for the two of you to come together. I won’t promise you will be able to have children when it happens”? Would I have taken that?

I might have asked a couple of questions, like, “Why is it taking so long? If you can turn stones into children of Abraham, surely there is more than one woman in the world who can be my wife. If she doesn’t exist yet, take one of my ribs and make her like you did from Adam.”

And God might have said something like, “I haven’t worked that way since the Fall. She does exist. All I am promising is that in the fullness of time, you will meet the desire of your heart.”

“How long is that?”

“In the fullness of time.”

 

Chronos and Kairos

 

When you pray for something, it’s really hard to pin down an exact time from God. Look at all the times throughout history someone thought they had figured the exact time of the Rapture, and it still hasn’t happened. So when will it happen? Just like the first advent of Christ happened in the fullness of time, the second advent will happen the same way. So stop trying to calculate when.

In Greek, there are two different words for time: Chronos (quantitative time) and Kairos (qualitative time). We live in Chronos, where time is measured in seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, etc. God operates in Kairos, which means it happens at the right time.

At eighteen I was in Virginia, and she was in South Carolina. The time was not right for us to come together. It took about thirty years to make it happen. As we got to know each other, we learned that all the while, God was slowly, imperceptibly moving us toward each other, so that at the right time, we finally met. It would take a whole other post to tell how it all worked together, but it was enough to convince me whether I believed it or not, God kept working to make it happen at the right time.

Since then it has been a lot easier to trust that God is working everything in my life – even my most frustrating and painful moments – for good, as Romans 8:28 says. So when I ask why God didn’t give me children, if I believe God knew what He was doing better than I did, there must be a reason. I don’t know the reason, and I don’t have to, because even that was something God did for my good. I couldn’t always believe that. But my relationship with God has healed to the point that now I can.

David and Fran wedding photo

Infinity

 

This is a famous passage from The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green, first a book and later made into a movie.

 

“There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

 

Remember that statistic about 50% of marriages ending in divorce? That hasn’t been true in my family, including extended families. At family reunions, I have great aunts and uncles who have been married fifty, sixty, seventy years. Some who have outlived their spouses. I have cousins who got married at a “normal age” and are still with the same person. A few were divorced and remarried, but not many.

Fran and I will complete our first year of marriage this weekend. It’s very unlikely – unless God does something incredible – that we will live to be married as long as my grandparents were, my parents have been, her parents have been, and of course my many great aunts and uncles and even some cousins have been. I don’t know how long we will have together before one or both of us leaves this world. In comparing the length of time we will have together versus what they have already had, and will have, our Chronos looks so small. John Green reminds me here that no matter how short the time, in Kairos she has already given me infinity within the numbered days. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Ring - Best friend, true love