I can remember many years ago, lying in my bed in a great deal of pain. I had hurt my back. I had two herniated discs. Now for those of you who don't know exactly what that means, it means that the gelatinous material that exists between two of my vertebrae had been punctured and was leaking out and making contact with the nerves that run through the center of the spinal column. Chiropractors refer to these as slipped discs, which calls to mind an image, which is somewhat less than accurate. A "slipped disc" makes you think of discs out of alignment. This is not the case. Imagine the discs not so much like rubber cushions, and more like small sacks of jello. My jello had leaked out and was touching my sciatic nerve, the nerve that runs down from the back under the buttock and down the leg. So although the injury was in my back, it was actually my leg that hurt like hell. Moreover, it was functionally weak. Any attempt to actually sit or walk was excruciating. I pretty much had to lie down. I remember having to actually crawl to get to the bathroom.
This injury caused me to have to tell my employers, a retail general merchandise store called T. G. & Y (a dime store, in other words), that I would be unable to return to work for an undetermined period of time. They responded by firing me. Naturally, I filed suit, and just as naturally, that suit was drawn out over a period of about three years. At the exact moment that I was flat on my back, I was in a lot of pain and with no immediate source of income other than California State Disability Insurance. Although I was injured on the job T. G. & Y had a policy of fighting all workman's compensation cases. This did not make my first wife happy. The relationship was quickly strained further than it had already been.
On top of this, at one particular moment, I found myself with a horrible toothache caused by an abscess, and a case of strep throat. Let's just say I was good and miserable. I was too sick to go to the dentist (which would have cost a pretty penny on top of everything else), and suffering both from the tooth and from the back injury. I was unable to ever sleep more than an hour or so at a time. It was at this moment that I couldn't help but wonder what I had done to piss off God. I mean, here I was hurt, sick, out of work, my marriage falling apart, and wondering why all this was happening to me. I guess that's only natural.
We all have runs of bad luck from time to time. I'm pretty sure we all (well, except the atheists among us) wonder why God has decided to visit these plagues upon us. Isn't that one of the most common questions that hit us when we think of the existence of God? How could a good and loving God allow the horrible things that happen to us here on earth to occur? Every religion on the planet has had to deal with this question. And one of the most common answers is that we have made God angry in some way and that God is punishing us. Clearly Pat Robertson thinks so. He has said as much. And there are many in the Christian faith who claim that AIDS is God's punishment upon the homosexual community and the promiscuous. But I say these "Christians" need to go back and re-read the words of their teacher.
In the ninth chapter of John, Jesus is walking out of the temple area in Jerusalem when he passes by a man whom the gospel says has been blind since birth. Jesus' students (which is the literal translation of the Greek word for his disciples) ask him, "Teacher, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Now here we have the classic question: why is this guy afflicted? And the assumption is, obviously, that somehow there was some sin that angered God involved. The word here for sin translates as "missing the mark", or "making a mistake", by the way. It does not inherantly mean "to do something wrong". And this calls to mind an image of God as one who sits and watches everything we do, ready to heap punishments upon us the minute we step out of line, or make some mistake. Read closely, it also indicates that the ancient Jews had some concept of karma and reincarnation. They ask who sinned, the blind man, or his parents. But the guy had been blind from birth. When could he have had the opportunity to sin (in order to be punished), unless it had been during a previous incarnation. Any mention of reincarnation is usually squashed pretty quickly by most mainstream Jews and Christians, but there are references there if you look for them. Regardless, the question is still the same. Who screwed up?
Most translations of this text read something like this, "Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work."
So, okay, we have an answer. Nobody sinned. Nobody did anything wrong at all. But then, the way it is worded, we have an even more disturbing image. The way it is translated, it looks as though God made this poor bastard blind just so Jesus could heal him and impress everybody. That sounds pretty harsh. It always has. And whenever things don't sound right to me, I always go back to the original Greek. I usually find an answer there. And this is no exception. Literally (which is kind of hard to read), the translation is rendered thus:
"Responded Jesus, not this one and not the parents, but so that it might be revealed to him, the work must be done by the one who sent me while it is the daytime."
The prepositional phrase "through him" is more often translated as "to him". It is in the Dative case. The Dative case is what you and I are used to calling the indirect object. In the sentence, "They gave me a gift." The word "me" is considered an indirect object with the preposition "to" implied. "They gave (to) me a gift." So in less linguistic terms, Jesus wants the power of God revealed TO the man, not THROUGH him. Read this way, God isn't making anybody blind just so Jesus can show off his healing powers.
But what is more important here is that Jesus is giving us the answer to that question. Nobody sinned. He's just blind, that's all. It's not important why he's blind. What matters is that he be healed. So in other words, SHIT HAPPENS. The good and the bad things that happen in the world are a result of what we do to one another, and sometimes, just what happens. What God, or Krishna, or the Great Spirit, or Allah, or whatever you want to call Him/Her is give us the power, strength, grace, and courage to face what happens and respond.
Why did that young man go nuts and shoot all those people at Virginia Tech? Who knows? Why he did it doesn't matter. It's up to us to help the survivors and their families recover from the loss of their loved ones. It's up to us to reach out to those who are isolated and withdrawn. It's up to us to comfort and love...and forgive. Love, that is the gift God gives us. And we are free to use it, and use it freely. Can we ever truly be guilty of loving too much?
According to John, after that man was cured, he was taken to the Priests at the temple who questioned him again and again how this Jesus had healed him, and didn't he know that this Jesus was a blasphemer. The man answered by saying, "Look, I don't know how he did what he did, or who he was. Alls I know is that I was blind and now I can see. You jokers don't know who he is and say he's a sinner. If he's such a sinner, then explain to me how he made me see! It seems to me that you're the blind guys. (Big Daddy Translation)."
We spend way too much time worrying about how things get screwed up. We should spend more of energy on making them better. Let's face it. Figuring out how things got fucked up seldom does us any good anyway. We keep making the same mistakes over and over, even when we do know the reason we make them. Look at Iraq. Didn't we learn anything from Vietnam? It's not like it hasn't been discussed over and over and over again. And in retrospect, even had I known exactly why my life seemed to go to shit back thirty years ago, would it have changed anything? Would it have made me feel any better?
I think the words of Jesus make it clear. God does not punish us. The power of God is truth and love. And that power is there, available to us. We just have to open our eyes and see it, just like the blind guy in the story.
According to the story, Jesus spits in the dirt and rubs some of the mud on his eyes and then tells him to wash in the water. It is when he washes the mud off that he regains his sight. Get it? The guy had to DO something. He didn't just sit there and get healed. He had to get off his ass and do something. The bad things that happen to us are not our fault. Let go of those feelings. Quit worrying about why bad things are happening to you. Just get off your ass and make them better, trusting in the love of God that will give you the power to do it.
I do know that as a result of all that bad stuff, I started to study religions and philosophy. I learned to read the Bible in Greek. I started to study the Eastern Religions of Taoism, Buddhism, Shinto, Zen, and Hinduism. I started to look for answers to questions I had never asked before. And from that experience I have learned that everything bad that happens opens up the opportunity for great growth and enlightenment. And I am better off today because of that hellish time in my life. And that is another gift from God. There is nothing so bad that happens to us in this life that God cannot turn to good if we just have faith and hold on. But that's a different Bible story for another day.
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