There is a direct line between faithfulness and spiritual blessing. As a believer in Jesus, you are counted as perfectly faithful and are, as a result, given every spiritual blessing. But there is no straight line between material blessing and faithfulness. You may have a lot of money and great health, you may not. But let’s not kid ourselves into believing that says anything about our standing in Christ and our faithfulness to him. It doesn’t in any straight line sort of way.
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
So runs the question of Jesus’ disciples in John 9:2. As most of us are aware, Jesus rejects their binary options and says, ‘neither!’ From this, most of us happily recognise that there is no straight line from sin to sickness. Whilst elsewhere, in John 5:14 for example, Jesus is clear that there may be some occasions in which sin leads directly to suffering – a heroin addict who dies from an OD or the alcohol dependent who has damaged their liver beyond repair would be two obvious examples – he is clear that we can’t typically go drawing straight lines from sin to suffering.
Most of us are onboard with that. Most of us recognise that a disabled person, born that way, has not done anything to cause their own suffering. Nor, Jesus suggests, have their parents. Suffering is not always, not even typically, a direct result of personal sin. I know Glen Hoddle didn’t agree, but then his denial of what Jesus said led to the termination of his England managerial career, proving that sometimes, our personal sin might lead to a bit of suffering after all (though, unlike Hoddle, we don’t think there is a straight line!)
The opening chapters of Genesis tell us that things are not as they were originally created to be. Sin’s grip on the world leads to suffering for those in the world. Which means that many will suffer and there is no personal culpability, no specific sin that they or their parents committed, that has led to their suffering. Jesus is pretty clear on that point. I, for example, was born with a submucous cleft palate that wasn’t picked up for years. As I read my Bible, that wasn’t caused by my sin (it occurred before I was born to do any sin) nor my parents’ sin. It was just a potent reminder that the world is not as it was originally created to be and, since sin came into the world in a general sense, so will it ever be until Jesus returns to make all things new. As I say, most of us are happy (and right) not to draw straight lines here.
We seem less content, however, not to draw those same straight lines in inverse. Of course, we think, suffering is not necessarily the result of personal sin. But, so reasoning that floats around the church says, God’s blessing on us is a sign of our faithfulness. How do I know I’m doing what’s right? How do I know the Lord is pleased with me? Our short answer is often: look at how he is blessing us! But, if there is no straight line from sin to suffering, why should there any more be a straight line from faithfulness to blessing?