My Experience with Laura Story’s Book When God Doesn’t Fix It
Laura Story’s When God Doesn’t Fix It: Lessons You Never Wanted to Learn, Truths You Can’t Live Without is dedicated to exposing some myths people may believe about suffering, and it is a treasure. Laura is the songwriter who penned the Billboard Music Awards-, Grammy-, and Dove Award -winning 2011 song “Blessings.”
The book (Thomas Nelson, 2015) is so beautifully written that I looked up both Story and her writer, Jennifer Schuchmann, and sent them each notes thanking them for sharing Story and her husband’s experience in this way.
One idea shared in the book got me digging deeper. It was related to whether or not God caused the man born blind to be born blind. The book’s assertion, based on a certain commentary, is that John 9:3-4 has been misrepresented in translation by having “so that” placed in the wrong sentence when the period was added later between what are now marked as verses 3 and 4. The book argues that God’s eventually getting glory from the healing of the man was not the reason the man’s blindness happened. In other words, God didn’t cause the blind man to be blind—that happened because of a fallen world; God merely allowed the blindness to happen.
As I will share in my upcoming books, issues like this have had a profound impact on my faith as I have suffered, so I think it’s important to dig in—not tiptoe around—where it hurts. Far from being dusty academic factoids, Scripture translation problems can be gum in the lock of faith for people. We need to know the truth about our God.
The commentary Story’s book cited on this particular issue had piqued a curiosity: Was it right? Could I find out? I voraciously dug into the numerous Bible commentaries available at Biblehub.com. I wanted to know: Was it true that the reason the man was born blind in John 9 may not be just what I had thought it was? Had the man been born blind so that God would be glorified? Or had God just decided to make glory-lemonade out of generic-fallen-world-trouble-lemons?
How is Glory Worth That?
What was not in dispute was that by healing that one man who had been born blind, God received glory. So whether the outcome of “glory for God” was the reason God caused blindness or merely the redemption of the blindness God allowed, the substance is the same: The whole reason the man’s blindness was either caused or allowed was for God’s glory.
It is a very hard thing to consider that it is possible that God decided to make someone live with a physical challenge such as blindness—whether directly (by causing the suffering) or indirectly (by allowing the suffering)—for his glory.
I think one reason this tradeoff is so hard for me to internalize is that I am so far removed from the concept of God’s glory that it sounds like just some impractical thing that doesn’t matter to humans and certainly couldn’t be worth half a lifetime of blindness. But apparently I would be wrong, because this very account teaches that it is worth that. God places a high value on his glory and on ours.
What is My Real Problem?
As I researched, I realized that, for me, there was something even more important to my faith than the question of whether God had caused or had merely allowed that man’s blindness; and whether he allowed infirmity for his glory or only healed it for his glory. I had a spot in my heart that was even more sore than that spot.
I realize that the two possible geneses of my own suffering—God’s causing it or God’s allowing it—feel the same to me in terms of my response. Because my only task, after I’ve sorted and sifted it every way, is to decide whether, even in my pain, I still believe God loves me, and I believe that strongly or deeply enough that I can trust him that he is working this out for good—and not just the general kingdom good, but my individual good.
No matter how John 9:3-4 is punctuated, the fact is that God still made the world, full-knowing that that man would be blind for decades, and that all of my sufferings would take place. Which means that my pain still lies in his hands, or at his feet—to have prevented, to use, and/or to alleviate.
I found that it didn’t much matter to me whether God had prescribed my suffering or only allowed it, because I still pinned responsibility on him for creating this whole world to begin with—a world in which I was suffering. And so, for me, the real question was how would I respond to this in my own relationship with God?
Even if God had only allowed, and not caused, the man in John 9 to be born blind in order to bring God glory, was that scenario really any better in terms of whether I could trust God?
Either way, wasn’t the question exactly the same for me: Could I trust a God who would either treat me that way or permit me to be treated that way? Was that love?
I realized that I could stare into the translation question until my eyes crossed, and it wouldn’t change how I felt about the above.
Can I Love a God Who Causes Suffering?
I know it’s a big point to some people whether God only permits suffering or whether he causes it, and I’m not dismissing that at all. That’s the same question I wrestle with regarding Paul’s thorn in one of my upcoming books: Did God merely use the thorn to Paul’s advantage since Satan willingly provided it, or did God want Paul to have this “messenger of Satan” in order to protect him from the spiritual sin of pride?
If you think that answer to whether God wanted Paul to have his thorn is an easy no, remember that it was God’s will for Christ to suffer (Isaiah 53:10). God is smarter than Satan and tricked him into torturing Jesus to death—which was a horrible baptism of suffering for the man Jesus, but which brought rescue to humanity.
If the suffering of Jesus was preordained and “necessary” (John 3:14; John 3:17; Isaiah 53:10; Romans 5:15-18), why should I recoil so bitterly from the idea that some (I do not say all) other suffering is also preordained and necessary?
Does it make the Father less loving? Ask Job.
Does it make the Father less worthy of my trust? Ask Jesus.
I am certainly not saying God causes all suffering; I would not say that, because I do not believe it. But he did that to Christ, so it is not outside his nature to will someone to suffer (Isaiah 53:10).
After meditating on the Scriptures regarding the suffering of Jesus, Paul, and Job, I think it’s possible that the answer is some of both: Scripture definitely supports the idea that God does cause some suffering (Isaiah 53:10; Job 2:3), but I believe that he merely allows most of the other instances of suffering, those that arise due to free will and the sin of the human race.
I don’t believe he likes any of it, though. I don’t believe he likes to see any of us hurting. He’s not trying to destroy us; he’s saving us. He’s trying to mature us and keep us spiritually safe and form us into the image of Christ and give us life.
If I refuse to consider the possibility in my own case that God is not just permitting, but ordering, my suffering (I do not know which is the case; I am merely talking about my willingness to consider the possibility of the latter), I will miss the opportunity to submit to him even in that situation. If I write off that possibility, I will miss the opportunity to learn how to love a God who finds it not only acceptable, but desirable, to treat me that way—as he treated Christ. I will miss the opportunity to learn how to believe that even this God loves me.
If God Doesn’t Prevent Suffering, Does the Cause Matter?
So, if God was willing for the man to be blind such that God did not at least prevent it, does it matter to the man whether God caused his blindness or only allowed it?
If I stare long enough into the question of whether God preordained my affliction for a specific reason, or whether God is just deciding, before or after the fact, to bring good out of the bad dealt me by the fallen world, I see that the two geneses of suffering are essentially the same in terms of the outcome he achieves: Since God foreknew all, what he will create out of a situation is the reason for which he allowed a situation. (Thanks to Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers for helping me crystallize that thought.)
Since God foreknew all, what he will create out of a situation is the reason for which he allowed a situation.
God may allow something that appears—and feels—unkind and unloving. But Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (KJV). And that is the point where my faith intersects most sharply with my painful life. Will I believe that he is, in fact, working all things together for good (Romans 8:28) and, even more specifically, that he loves me and that he can be trusted at all times with all of my heart? (Psalm 62:8; Proverbs 3:5). Will I believe that my trouble–until he removes it—will be used by him for my good, as well as his glory?
My most important task, after I’ve sorted and sifted it every way—and after I’ve decided whether, even in my pain, I still believe strongly and deeply enough that God loves me that I can trust him that he is working this out for good—and not just the general kingdom good, but my individual good—is to love God with all my heart and soul and mind.
How Is This Worth It?
Just as each of us has a list of works “God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NLT), Jesus had a list of works to do while he was on earth (John 5:36). Jesus’ works were given to him by the Father; and healing the man born blind was on that list. (I know that that specific healing was on his list, because Jesus did it, and Jesus was very clear about staying on mission and accomplishing the works God gave him to do.)
But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.
John 5:36 (NLT)
So while I was busy trying to decide whether I could trust a God who says he is love but who allows suffering to drag on for years, I was failing to take into account the most persuasive evidence of his love: the fact that in the account of the blind man, Jesus was proving that he was the Messiah. And that in the account of Jesus’ own suffering, Christ was doing the work of saving me. And that in the account of Paul’s suffering, Paul’s work was all to save people. This wasn’t just a bunch of pointless suffering. It was all about saving people God loves.
God wanted children with the capacity to love him: that meant giving us free will, which means that not only can individuals choose to love him and others, we might also choose to hate and kill and lie and steal and destroy. And many do not love. And so, this life is exactly as Jesus said it would be: In this world you will have trouble (John 16:33).
But free will means I also always have a choice: Whether to love the God who loves me enough to do something for me that he says is larger and greater and longer than all of this suffering.
In the end, I don’t know whether John 9:3-4 is suffering from a translation problem or not. There are 41 Bible commentaries available at Biblehub.com; I checked out John 9:3-4 in every one of them that had an entry for it. The commentary cited in Story’s book wasn’t among them, and none of the other commentaries there took the same position as the commentary her book cited.
I do know that, no matter where the punctuation should rightly be placed in John 9:3-4, the man’s blindness was exactly what John 5:36 says: a work given to Jesus by the Father; and that the work was done by Jesus and brought glory to God (John 9:3-4).
I have the Holy Spirit to guide me into all truth, and I trust that he will lead me to what I need to know, when I need to know it. So, even though I didn’t find the answer I was looking for now, I’m glad I looked into this question, because what God revealed in my heart was something I need to address. I realized that no matter how John 9:3-4 was punctuated, my task was the same: to love a God who would create a world in which I would suffer, and to love him not just a little, but with all my heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).