Audio (September 28, 2008): Limitations You Would Never Choose I love the visual energy of the iPod ads that feature young Dionysians wired for sound and abandoned to their music.
But I don't love the spiritual energy. The ads express the dominant American religion of Self. I need to throw off restraints. Inside of me is a unique vitality that I should unleash, and if I can live in my own sonic space (courtesy of Apple) my ecstatic power will burst out.
The individuality in Christ that we are studying in John 9 is the opposite of iPod religion.
When Jesus passes a beggar born blind, the disciples ask him why the beggar is so disabled, so limited. Who sinned, the man or his parents, to bring such a doom upon him?
A pretty revealing question. The disciples assume that the beggar's suffering was caused by unrighteousness, an assumption for which they offer no evidence because they regard the blindness as evidence enough.
But they also seem to view the beggar's limitations as destroying his potential. What might he have become if it weren't for his or his parents' sin? For the disciples, potential value is all about personal power. In relation to the beggar, they see themselves as righteous and free. They have their sight, their ability to move around unaided, their ability to work for a living. Their powers are what make them vital, valuable individuals.
To be sure, the disciples feel the beggar's condition is tragic, but only from a speculative point of view.
Jesus does not see the beggar's limitations the same way. He teaches the disciples that the man's blindness was permitted so that "the works of God might be displayed in him." The man's potential, for Jesus, is not in capabilities. It's in limitations. The man's blindness and low status will offer a glimpse of God's power that will be uniquely valuable to the world.
In saying this, Jesus does not minimize the severity of the beggar's suffering. In fact, by healing the man's blindness, Jesus rebukes the darkness of this world that creates pain and loss.
But Jesus does see limitations as divine opportunities.
Consider this: the limitations around the beggar do not disappear once he is healed. They just morph. The authenticity of the man's experience is questioned by his neighbors, and he becomes a political target of the Pharisees. The man's own parents, though they acknowledge him as their son, refuse to affirm his story out of selfish fear.
In releasing the man from one set of limitations, Jesus leaves him in another set. The man is even more alone now than when he was blind.
Yet it is the man's solitude that displays God's glory for a second time, in an even greater way than the healing. The beggar's stubborn adherence to Jesus when no one else will support him speaks to us. "Whether [Jesus] is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." God uses a poor, illiterate man to rivet our attention and bolster our courage even after two thousand years. He uses the man's limitations.
According to Jesus, the limitations on your life are full of potential for God's glory. Your individuality in Christ is not just your advantages over other people, but is your whole person -- especially your suffering.
The iPod religion of throwing off restraints, living in your inner world, and releasing your Self, is a heresy against life. Life is limited. Those who want to live do not dissipate their powers in fantasy.
Instead of the Dionysian madness of fake freedom, Jesus gives us the Christian madness of real joy.