It’s been almost 15 years since the 9/11 attacks. This was a devastating and tragic period of time for American history in particular and a widening rift for those most affected, in general. Sermons (such as Carter Conlon’s post-9/11 service), music (Tori Amos wrote “I Can’t See New York” in 2002), and most significantly, popular books (eg., Sam Harris’ End of Faith in 2004) also emerged to bring about a new conversation on fundamentalism, fanaticism, and religion that would later start a whole new breed of secularists. In other words, we would come to see “the decade of atheism.”
Now, I’m not sure why tragedies lead people to unbelief; it’s a strange corollary. From multiple testimonies I have gathered from unbelievers, tragic events seem to be tied one way or another to their disbelief in God. Divorces, death, great misfortune (like Job), suffering, abandonment and betrayal all sit on the shoulders of humanity. Some men are born blind, after all. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1)
God has been approached by the most arduously skeptical and provocative thinkers history has ever seen, I’m sure. Though these men lack the advantage of personal acquaintance, Jesus’ own disciples – his closest followers, friends, and rather highly educated “theologians” – questioned Jesus on one man’s misfortune of having been born blind. Jesus, Lord and philosopher par excellence, answered his disciples:
Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Long story short, the blind man was sent away to wash his eyes and was later able to see (vv. 6-7). Though Jesus knows that his followers are ignorant of God’s overall redemptive plan, He reverts their attention away from one man’s example of worldly misfortune to that same man’s image of redemptive rebirth. This is evidenced by the fact that (a) the man, once blind, “can now see” (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4) and (b) that his neighbors do not recognize him as the same man who was begging just a little bit ago.