Writings by Cole Huffman

All the Light We Cannot See

Cole’s book, He Made the Stars Also: Seven Stories That Had to be Told, is going to the publisher now (date of publication TBD). Below is a short excerpt from chapter 6 on the healing of the man born blind (John 9).

Healing congenital blindness was something no one before Jesus did. It’s hard to overemphasize how miraculous a miracle it was. The Pharisees were right to investigate it because it was unprecedented. They were wrong to let their investigation mutate into an interrogation of the recipient.

To that point, no prophet had ever healed blindness. Prophets like Elijah and Elisha were given power to bring two boys back to life. Elisha, furthermore, struck an invading army with temporary blindness. Jewish tradition records a couple of alleged healings from blindness, but there is no record in Scripture of this kind of healing until Jesus.

Rabbis considered the healing of blindness a greater feat than raising the dead. Many Pharisees would have believed that. They believed miracles were possible, unlike their Sadducee brothers from across the aisle in the Sanhedrin. The healed man himself was appropriately blown away by what happened to him: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (John 9:32). He wasn’t embellishing things.

His blindness was not just personally difficult but relationally alienating. Most suspicioned him: he had to be under God’s rebuke. So strongly was that the prevailing sense of things, I suspect the man sometimes wondered if it was really true in his case. Is everyone right about me? Jesus said there was, in fact, a reason for the man’s blindness: “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).

God is always doing more than we know. That providence extends over anything we have to bear. But Jesus’ reply to his disciples’ question about the man born blind was an answer and non-answer at the same time. It still doesn’t tell us why the man had to be blind all those years. We’re placed in the tension articulated in Deuteronomy 29:29, that some things are revealed to us by God and some things remain known only to God. As Cameron Cole writes of this in Therefore I Have Hope, “The secret things—God’s reasons, intentions, and plans in the trillions of circumstances in the world every day—are innumerable . . . God has reasons why certain trials have entered our lives, and we only have access to an infinitesimal fraction of his reasons.”

In her book, Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved), Kate Bowler tells about her sojourn through Stage 4 cancer. More than the cancer itself, she felt people opinionating on why she had it, or what God was doing in it and through it, would ultimately do her in. Bowler called it “the trite cruelty in the logic of the perfectly certain,” and, “spray painting everything in gold.” After writing about her health battle in a highly trafficked New York Times article, she said:

My in-box is full of strangers giving reasons. People offer them to me like wildflowers they picked along the way. A few people want me to cultivate spiritual acceptance . . . But most everyone I meet is dying to make me certain. They want me to know, without a doubt, that there is a hidden logic to this seeming chaos. Even when I was still in the hospital, a neighbor came to the door and told my husband that everything happens for a reason. ‘I’d love to hear it,’ he replied. ‘Pardon?’ she said, startled. ‘The reason my wife is dying,’ he said in that sweet and sour way he has, effectively ending the conversation as the neighbor stammered something and handed him a casserole.”

The attempt to plumb “reasons for” a travesty or trial is awkward for us. Plenty are ready to deploy platitudes to help us fix it. Make it better. That’s all well intentioned usually, but even when the reason is known it can still be difficult to square with. Knowing the reason doesn’t mean we will like it.

Reasons are like points of light on the electromagnetic spectrum. There is light we can and cannot see. Or like diving down into the ocean; there is a depth at which the pressure becomes too great and we have to surface. What do we surface to?

John said he narrated seven miracles so that we might believe in Jesus, and in believing have life in his name (John 20:31). The story of Jesus healing the man blind from birth with mud and a wash in the waters of Siloam is a story about belief and unbelief. Our belief in Jesus, our life in his name, is what we surface to again and again, not just when we’re submerged in troubles.

The blind man believed in Jesus through what Jesus did for him. He saw Jesus for who he was. The Pharisees, though witnesses to great miracles, remained mired in unbelief. They refused to see. They rejected life in Jesus’ name.

Belief sees. Unbelief blinds. The blind man’s belief in Jesus saw its way to worship. The Pharisees’ unbelief was blindness to their own self-righteousness. Unbelief can be blind to unrighteousness also, but in this story unbelief is blind to self-righteousness.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 3:40 PM
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