On July 30th 1967 the life of a young 17 year old girl was impacted forever. Joni Eareckson was like any other teenager as she spent a hot summer day swimming in the Chesapeake Bay with friends. When she unknowingly dove into shallow water she did not know that her life would forever be impacted. After diving into the waters she broke her neck and ultimately became a quadriplegic from the shoulders down. At the young age of 17 when teens are supposed to be enjoying life and preparing for their future Joni’s life was virtually over as she knew it. No longer would she be able to go for bike rides, long walks (or any walks for that matter), dance, swim or any other things average teenagers did.
Prior to the accident, for two years, she went through strenuous rehab. She struggled with anger, bitterness and depression. Joni asked the question that many who face adversity ask, “God, why did you allow this to happen to me?” She wrestled with this question for years. Over time as she grew older she began to see her handicap so much as not God’s punishment in her life but God’s blessing. Eventually she found herself no longer asking “Why?” but instead, “How can I be a vessel for the glory of God?”
Many of you know Joni has emerged despite her handicap as a talented artist (she would paint with her mouth beautiful pictures with great detail), an inspirational speaker and motivator for people with handicaps. She has become a speaker who gives encouragement to others with handicaps and shares about her great love for God. She shares how God used her tragedy and handicap for his glory and honor in her life. Her story has been shared around the world in both book and movie format and she has been an inspiration for men and women for over 40 years. This certainly does not mean life has been a bundle of roses or that she has never had struggles with doubt. She has come away from this tragedy stronger in her faith and uses her story to inspire others and their need for God. Joni has written, "This paralysis is my greatest mercy…. The greatest good suffering can do for me is to increase my capacity for God.”
In July of 2010 Joni faced another unexpected turn in her life when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was not about to let this get her down nor cause her to turn her back on God. She wrote on her web page, "I want to assure you that I am genuinely content to receive from God whatever He deems fit for me even if it is from His left hand because better something from His left hand than no hand at all, right?" Joni Eareckson Tada is truly a woman of inspiration, faith and encouragement.
Read John 9:1-12
Verse 1: As Jesus was walking the disciples noticed a man who was blind from birth (we are not told how they knew he was born blind) and the disciples asked a question of why this man was born blind. The disciples, like most Jews of their day, believed that the reason someone has an ailment or handicap is because of a certain sin.
Verse 2: They ask Jesus is it because of his sin, or the sins of his parents that he is born blind. Some Jews believed it was possible for a person to sin in the womb or that a sin the parent commits could in some way incriminate this person. For example A pregnant woman who worships in a pagan temple, her unborn baby would be regarded as participating in the worship.
Verse 3: Notice Jesus doesn’t deny the identifying of sin with suffering, but he does deny that all suffering universally is directly related to sin. Nor is he implying that this man does not have sin in his life. Instead Jesus responds that it is neither the man’s nor his parents’ sins that implicate him. In this case it was so the works of God could be manifested.
Verse 4, 5: Here Jesus includes the disciples in his work “we must do the works of him while it is still light.” Jesus’ specific ministry to the world was to point people to the Kingdom of God and ultimately make a way through his death and resurrection into this kingdom. So as long as He was present with the disciples he will heal, perform miracles and do the works of God.
“Night is coming…” We are all on this earth for a limited time. What we do with our time here on earth matters. When we are alive and walking this earth it is important and necessary to be a light, walk in the light and do works that bring glory to God. Because when our time is up, our time is up. Jesus knew his impending death was looming on the horizon and he was not going to miss any opportunities to glorify God.
Verses 6 – 8: Jesus spits on the ground and makes mud and places it on this mans eyes and tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Upon doing so the man truly sees that Jesus is the light of the world as he now has his sight back.
Verses 9 – 12: Of course this miracle cannot happen without incident. As people saw this man walking around; they realized who he was. Some thought it was a person who looked like him and others were convinced this was the man who has been blind his whole life. The man assured the people he was indeed the person they thought he was and recounted the story of how he received sight.
I started this blog with the story of Joni Eareckson Tada because I felt it fit with today’s text and addresses the issue of why pain, suffering, sickness and death happen in the world today. Today I would like to show four reasons why suffering, death and tribulation occur in our lives. It is not necessarily a complete list but it is biblical. Whether the trials, tribulations or tragedy come in form of an expensive car repair after a nice vacation or the untimely death of a friend or loved one.
Since suffering and sickness and trials and tragedy happen I believe how we respond is key.
My prayer for today is that in the midst of our trials, tribulations, sufferings, pain and even death that God is glorified. I pray we could become men and women who rejoice in trials, trust during tribulation and endure with prayer, praise and patience. I believe this is impossible to do in our own power. It is through the strength and power of the Holy Spirit present in our lives that we are able to get through our troubling times. So may we become people empowered by the Spirit to live our lives for the glory of God whether in pain and suffering or through blessings and good health. May God be glorified in all seasons of our lives.
 Carson, D.A. (1991) The Gospel According to John p. 362 Grand Rapids, MI: William B Eerdman’s Publishing Co.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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