I wanted to ask you a question about the cause of disabilities as it relates to Exodus 4:11 and John 9:3 (about Jesus healing the man born blind). Some translations render the text in John as “this happened so that the works of God may be displayed”, implying that God caused his illness from birth to display His own power. The same translations render Exodus 4:11 as God deliberately creating disabilities in people. However, the NKJV renders the text differently in both spots, implying that God is sovereign and He creates people with the allowance that their creation occurs within the parameters of a fallen world and, thus, disabilities occur. And the NKJV rendering of John 9:3 implies that, no matter the disability or circumstances, God will use it to glorify Himself. I find the former view quite disturbing. It, quite frankly, states that God can and will creates disabilities in any person from birth specifically for His own glory to be displayed and not due to any cause other than that. I do not wish to sound blasphemous, but this seems cruel and capricious. Allowing something to naturally occur and using it to glorify God is different from causing it to occur. It would imply that every miscarriage or case of spina bifida in an innocent baby was designed by God for a specific purpose. I wanted to get your thoughts on the subject. I prefer the NKJV’s rendering, but I also want to be biblically sound in my interpretation.
Of course, I can see your concern about this matter. In my opinion, parsing out the language will not produce a slam-dunk answer. I am definitely not an expert in either Greek of Hebrew. For this reason, I am not the best person you can go to in order to find the best sense of John 9:3 and Exodus 4:11. What I can say is that the original of John 9:3 is at least a little bit vague as to exactly how it should be interpreted. Presumably, it would be interpreted in light of one’s presuppositions about God. Here are a number of versions of the verse in question:
NIV “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
New Living Translation “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.
English Standard Version but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Berean Study Bible but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.
Berean Literal Bible but it was that the works of God should be displayed in him.
New American Standard Bible but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
King James Bible but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.
Holman Christian Standard Bible “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him.
International Standard Version This happened so that God’s work might be revealed in him.
NET Bible but he was born blind so that the acts of God may be revealed through what happens to him.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English but that the works of God may appear in him.”
GOD’S WORD® Translation Instead, he was born blind so that God could show what he can do for him.
New American Standard 1977 but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.
None of these translations say that God made the man blind. All imply that “it happened”, and that the fact that it happened was used by God for his glory. The second interpretation you mention above seems to be the natural interpretation—that it occurred naturally, but that God, in his wisdom, was able to use it to his glory.
The obvious interpretation of this is that God created a world in which blindness is occasionally the result of natural processes such as disease and genetic defect or accidents. (and occasionally due to violent, sinful acts by people). In other words, Jesus is telling him that God did NOT make the man blind because of anyone’s sin, but he happened to be blind, and God was able to use it for his glory.
I do not think that this is a slam dunk and, to be honest, I am to some extent reading my understanding of God (gained elsewhere in the Bible) into the situation. One view of God is that he determines directly by his will everything that happens. This strong form of predestination is certainly not my understanding of God. If I am correct, God created the physical universe and then allowed it to proceed according to the laws he created. God only intervenes—causing supernatural things to happen—when he has a good reason for doing so. The same is true in human lives. God can and does intervene in our lives, even in physical illnesses when it is within his sovereign will. However, this is not the normal course of events. God does not normally give us a cold and he does not cure our colds. He does not give us cancer and he does not cure us. He created the natural laws within which these things happen. That is my understanding of scripture, and I could supply many verses to back this view up with if you desire me to do so.
However, some would apply a much stronger predestination and would imply that the man in John 9 was born blind because God chose for him to be blind. I do not think you can absolutely disprove this view of John 9:3 simply by reading the text and looking at translations.
My conclusion is that the most natural reading of John 9:3 is that it is describing something that simply happened—not because of anyone’s sin, but also not because God simply made the man blind. The obvious interpretation is that God used the fact of his blindness for his glory.
About Exodus 4:11, I will admit that upon a first reading, it is more easily made to seem consistent with the idea that God literally chooses individually to make some people blind, some deaf and so forth. However, we must take this passage in the context of the whole Bible (including John 9:3 where Jesus addresses this very question), and the immediate context of Exodus 4. In Exodus 4, the thing being addressed is not the theological implications of blindness and deafness, but rather the thing being addressed is Moses’ lack of faith and his hesitation to do what God commanded him to do. God is rebuking Moses for his lack of faith. We can excuse a bit of hyperbole when God admonishes Moses here. “Who gave you a mouth?” Is this a theological statement that for each individual person God chose on a case-by-case whether to give us physical mouths or not? Obviously not. It is a rhetorical question. God is not addressing the causes of blindness here, but the cause of Moses’ unwillingness to obey God. For this reason, I conclude that this is a very poor proof-text for demonstrating that God arbitrarily chooses to make some people deaf simply because he chose to do so. This is a huge stretch of this passage, in my opinion.
In the final analysis, God did create a world in which deafness, blindness, mental deficiencies, birth defects, cancer and death itself are part of the reality for human beings. We could fault God for not creating us as perfect physical specimens who have zero suffering. In a sense, all blindness and all death is God’s “fault.” However, I believe that in analyzing John 9:3 and even Exodus 4:11 we need to look at the big picture. The big picture is that we were created by God so that he could love us and so that we could love him and one another. All of us will die. No one gets out of here alive. The basic issue is sin and forgiveness and our eternal destiny. Whether one is blind or otherwise handicapped, as big of a deal as it is for us in our individual lives, this is not the key issue for God. God can and does use suffering and our response to suffering for his glory and to help us to come to know him. I do NOT believe that God individually struck the man in John 9 blind, but that he used the situation for his glory and so that the man could come to know him.