JOPLIN, Mo. —
One day as Jesus and the disciples were walking, they passed a man who was born blind. I'm not sure how they knew he was blind since birth, but apparently they did because they asked: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?"
This question reflects an age-old understanding of the relationship between God and mankind. Early man's view of Deity was polytheistic and anthropomorphic -- more than one god and the gods were understood to possess human emotions and motives.
These "gods" lived in the heavens and the mountains, wherever brute power, sublime beauty or great mystery was evident. They were motivated by emotions strikingly similar to ours.
Therefore, if a tribe's god was pleased with the people, then good things would happen. Crops flourished and business was good, being blessed by their god. If their god was displeased, then calamity would strike.
As a result of this dynamic, the relationship between the people and their god was one of fear. Step out of line and you would pay for it. Walk the line, and rewards would follow.
And then we note a couple of shifts occurring in Israel's thinking. Rather than multiple gods, there is only one God. They believed, and we Christians agree with them, that this understanding was revealed by God.
Courageous leaders began to speak of this understanding, and Israel, with a few lapses along the way, became monotheistic. It was not easy. New never is.
Another significant shift began to happen. Job adamantly insisted that his devastating losses had nothing to do with sin. He stood his ground against his friends' belief that sin was responsible. He appreciated the friendship but rejected their opinions.
The Psalmist speaks of going "through the valley of the shadow of death" rather than around it, with God accompanying us. He speaks of God offering spiritual nourishment "in the presence of enemies," not doing away with the enemies.
Habakkuk begins by questioning God about the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. "Why?" he wanted to know. "How long?" he challenged, would this continue.
He concludes with the declaration that even amidst trouble and suffering, "the Lord is my strength." Prosperity is not reserved for the righteous only, and suffering is not consigned to only the unrighteous. He accepted this mystery.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is not of this world. It is a spiritual realm, and Kingdom blessings are spiritual in nature -- love, joy, peace, kindness and long-suffering are examples. Without a doubt, the disciples heard this matter discussed and illustrated by Jesus, who lived what he taught.
And yet, in spite of it all, as they walked along and saw the man sitting by the wall, they asked, "Master, who sinned, this man or his parents?"
Longheld beliefs, even when wrong, die hard. "Neither," replied Jesus, once again teaching, setting matters straight.
This old way of thinking about how God relates with us persists yet today. Recently someone said to me, about our tornado, "You can't escape God, can you?"
Some still think that since business is good, God is blessing, never thinking about the success of the unrighteous.
While it is true that you can't escape God, I do not believe God delivered the tornado. Though prosperity is good, I do not believe it is God's blessing.
The problem with this old way of thinking is not that it's old, just as a new idea is not good because it's new. The problem is that it is contrary to the teaching of Christ.
Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.