Don: The theme of judgment runs throughout the story told in John chapter 9:
As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” [Thus, the story begins with a question about judgment.] Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. [Note that here Jesus relates judgment to “the works of God” being displayed in the blind man.] We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.” [Light and darkness are central to judgment, as for example in John 3.] When He had said this, He spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and applied the clay to his eyes, and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went away and washed, and came back seeing. Therefore the neighbors, and those who previously saw him as a beggar, were saying, “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?” Others were saying, “This is he,” still others were saying, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “I am the one.” So they were saying to him, “How then were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went away and washed, and I received sight.” They said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind. Now it was a Sabbath on the day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also were asking him again how he received his sight. And he said to them, “He applied clay to my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Therefore some of the Pharisees were saying, “This man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And there was a division among them. So they said to the blind man again, “What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?” And he said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews then did not believe it of him, that he had been blind and had received sight, until they called the parents of the very one who had received his sight, and questioned them, saying, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” His parents answered them and said, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?” They reviled him and said, “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 is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.
Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” And he said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9)
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“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:16-21)
God is responsible for deeds—works—“wrought” (made) by Him. Grace is a work of God manifested in people who come to His light. His light—the light that “has come into the world”—is Jesus. Jesus is responsible for the works of light. He demonstrated this by taking clay from the ground and mixing it into a poultice with His spittle. The imagery is straight from Creation: God crafted Man from clay and breathed life into him from His mouth (Book of Genesis). In healing the blind man, Jesus was demonstrating God’s power to re-create, to restore; as well as His power to create. In that case, could it be that judgment as presented by Jesus here is not about us at all, but is about God Himself?
We assume judgment is about us because we want it to be about us. We want to know how good or bad we are. But Scripture (Romans 5:20) tells us that where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more. If judgment is about God and His grace, and not about us and our sin, then this changes everything. It turns judgment from potentially awful news into guaranteed good news.
In the story of the blind man, judgment is clearly about the work of God and His grace. It is not about us, individually, and our particular sins. God’s graciousness was demonstrated through the blind man for all to see. Many instances of God’s grace appear to us to be as mysterious, wonderful, and inexplicable as, evidently, it seemed to the Pharisees in the story.
When light enters a place, it reveals something that was hitherto invisible, hidden from view. What Jesus revealed when He came into the world was the grace of God. In the conclusion of the story about the blind man, Jesus said: “For judgment I came into this world.” But the judgment had nothing to do with punishing the world and everything to do with saving it through the grace and the creative and restorative power of God (John 3:17–“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”)
But the Light reveals other things has well. It exposes everyone to the refining light of God. The blind are those who (like the blind man in the story) simply accept the grace (the poultice) that is given to them. The Pharisees, on the other hand, arrogantly claimed clarity of vision about God, citing Moses as their authority. They needed no poultice, and readily pronounced judgment on others (as represented by the blind man) on the basis of their assumed divine insight and authority. They simultaneously shunned and hoarded God’s grace, leaving them in a state of sin: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains,” Jesus admonished them.
The Light reveals both humble blindness and arrogant vision. To accept blindness is to see the Light, to see Jesus. The significance of the poultice is that such a clay/spittle concoction is indeed blinding—to those who think they can see. But it could open their eyes if, like the blind man, they would simply accept it. The poultice of grace blinds us to our own arrogant viewpoint, our own works; and restores our (in)sight of Jesus and makes us open to God’s work in us.
The judgment as declared by Jesus is that they have no sin who make no claim to see. We are all blind wo/men or Pharisees, but we have God’s work, God’s grace, within each and every one of us, individually. To fail to accept that—to be blinded to it by one’s own arrogant claim to exclusive insight into God and to the right to judge others—and to refuse the poultice, is to be lost in the judgment.
In short, the judgment of God is the grace of God offered individually to all who accept the poultice. Similarly, in the parable of the Wedding Feast, the judgment of God is the grace of God offered individually to all who accept the wedding garment.
Our eyes must be blinded because it is through the eyes that we are most likely to be judgmental of others. Only when our eyesight has been replaced by true insight can we safely view the world around us. And, like the blind man in the story, we will see Jesus (“You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”) This is the vision that results when spiritual sight is restored. One sees Jesus—God—in a different light, in a different way.
Have we misunderstood the judgment?
Nick: If we didn’t have Jesus, we wouldn’t have judgment.
David: I am not sure I am any further forward in understanding it. I can see the argument in the passage we have read today that judgment is grace, but going back to the judgment passage we’ve discussed previously, where Jesus judges and divides people to the right and to the left, I don’t see any grace in it.
Donald: The idea of judgment as grace is indeed a new perspective for me. It flips my former perspective on its head, and that has implications for my past and future duties and behaviors and for how to get to heaven.
Jay: The story of the blind man does a good job of reinforcing the notion that divine judgment is not something we humans can hope to understand. Much of the story is taken up by the Pharisees trying to understand how this topsy-turvy judgment could have happened; how this obviously guilty man or his parents could have been forgiven for the sin he/they must, in their view, have committed (else why would he have been born blind?)
Human judgment is based on fear. The blind man’s parents were afraid of being disbarred from the temple, so they did not want to talk with the Pharisees about their son. But the blind man, once his (in)sight was restored when he accepted the poultice and the divine judgment, was notably unafraid of the Pharisees and the threat of disbarment. He openly acknowledged that he could not understand why he had been judged so positively, but it could not be denied, he pointed out, that it had indeed happened, that it was a good thing that had happened, and that therefore it came from God. The Pharisees were unable to rebut his argument, but they nevertheless refused to accept it and disbarred him from the temple anyway.
To claim to understand judgment and thus to be able to judge others is actually the far more dangerous claim, yet it is one we tend to want to make. We don’t like uncertainty—we want to be sure of what is right and what is wrong.
Donald: There is a big difference between “liking to know” and judging others in the belief that we do know and therefore have that right. We may be comfortable with the description of the Pharisees as people arrogantly claiming to know.
David: But surely Christian Scripture, including the story of our eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, as well as what Jesus told us in the right and left judgment passage, shows us the mind of God with respect to judgment. Did you help the poor, the sick, the imprisoned? If so, that’s good. I know it’s good because Jesus said so, and because I feel it in my heart. If you did not help the poor, etc., that’s bad, and I know it’s bad because Jesus said so and because I feel it in my heart.
It seems to me the message is crystal clear, and it came straight out of the mouth of Jesus. So is it arrogant of me to claim that I understand it? Why can’t I judge you on the basis of my Scripturally based and heartfelt understanding of the mind of God with respect to judgment? (Perhaps the question should be “Why shouldn’t I judge you?”)
Nick: We are told that when we stand before God, everything will be revealed to us. We will have no place to hide, and our sins will be presented to us. But our public defender, Jesus, will atone for our sins with His own blood.
I once heard a pastor say there were different levels of heaven, and that those who undertook the greatest responsibility would get to the higher levels. I recall telling him that in that case, I would happily relinquish some of my responsibilities. 🙂
Don: Scripture does mention a “seventh heaven”, suggesting there are at least seven levels. Many religions believe in multiple stages or levels of heaven and hell.
Kiran: We know from Scripture that our works don’t matter when it comes to judgment. No matter how good I think I am, God knows how bad I am. I can only be saved—and will be saved—by grace. It is hard to do the good deeds described in the judgment chapter from pure altruism, without some sort of selfish motive; including the motive of getting in to heaven. I know I am not capable of pure altruism, but I can be at peace anyway, knowing that God is loving and gracious at a level far beyond my understanding.
Donald: Can we separate judgment from works? We try to, in arguing that grace trumps works, so works don’t really play a role in judgment and in our access to eternal life. I met a stranger yesterday. We “hit it off” instantly, and had a great conversation. Such moments are the spice of life. It made me wonder whether my meeting was a “work” and if so whether works are simply those things that make life better, that help us live a full life, with no thought of judgment.
Aishwarya: My first thought in hearing the story of the blind man was that he seemed to have done no “works” to deserve God’s grace, but God might have seen something in him to give grace to him. The story seemed to me to be about the man, not about God. My second thought was that, like Kiran, I would be happier believing that it is indeed about God and that I do not need to worry about judgment, whether I am doing good works or not. We want the story to be about God because we can’t be sure of our own self-judgment. Just a moment ago, I killed a spider that happened to come near me. It was just minding its own business. I started to wonder if what I did was a sin in God’s eyes and would be held against me one day. But I found myself going in circles between God’s grace and my actions, and must conclude that I basically don’t understand judgment!
David: I sense you feel guilty about the spider, and I suspect that your guilt was the voice and judgment of God. In the left/right judgment passage, Jesus was differentiating between, on the one hand, works we intellectualize as good—“Obey the Commandments”,…
[Don: (and “Don’t kill spiders”…. 😉 ]
David: …and, on the other, the works Jesus told us were good (visiting the sick, the incarcerated, etc.) without a thought for ourselves. We obey the Commandments because our intellect tells us to; we visit the sick because our heart tells us to. By “heart” I mean the inner light, God within us. When we respond to the dictates of the inner light—of God—rather than the dictates of our intellect, then our lives and works are all about God and not about us. Our intellect-based works don’t matter at all. Only God’s works matter. This seems to me to be what Jesus was getting at in both the left/right judgment passage and in the story of the blind man. If this is so, then I begin to see the mist of judgment parting a little.
Nick: Self-judgment is helpful. I remember being approached at my table in a MacDonald’s restaurant by a down-at-heels man. He said: “God wanted me to speak to you.” I said: “Sir, I don’t have time. I am running late for church [which was true]. I have to go.” It has bothered me ever since, that perhaps God brought the man to me and wanted me to speak with him, but I denied Him. Such self-judgment makes us, I think, better people, more inclined to help next time something like this happens.
Donald: The moment could have been spiritually rich—you’ll never know now. But “Do unto others” is indeed the golden rule that leads to a spiritually better life, regardless of and separate from judgment.
David: Such stories do indeed seem to me reveal the works of God. Like Aishwarya and the spider, Nick’s feeling of guilt did not come from his intellect: It came from God. It was not self-judgment. It was the judgment of God. As Jesus said, we are not capable of judgment. But we are capable of hearing it when God delivers it, but we don’t want to hear. I can’t bear to think about how many beggars I have turned away, sometimes with reasonable intellectual reasons (“I’m all out of small change”) because it makes me feel bad to think about it. God is telling me, softly but clearly, what the right thing to do is, and I don’t do it. I’m not capable of turning the other cheek, either.
Being good in the eyes of God, as Jesus knew and told us and demonstrated to us through His own suffering, is so very, very hard.
Kiran: Self-judgment is indeed tricky. I may think I am helping an addict by giving money for food, but others criticize me for only making a bad situation worse. I don’t know what’s right.
Robin: I was once approached by a woman claiming to be homeless and ill, and begging for money for food. My purse contained two dollar notes and one 20 dollar note. I thought that $2 would not buy her a meal, so I gave her the $20, and she hugged me and sobbed. My co-workers said she would probably spend it on alcohol or drugs. I said that was not my responsibility; that my responsibility was to try to meet her stated need.
Kiran: To answer the simple call for help simplifies things.
Donald: Was there any self-judgment on the part of the blind man?
Kiran: He did not even ask to be healed.
Don: Let’s continue to think and talk about this.
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