5 Costly Mistakes of Judging Those Who Suffer

Who sinned, this man or his parents? You may remember the story. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see a man who was blind. In fact he had been blind from birth. So they ask Jesus “Whose fault is it that this person is blind?” “Did his parents do something that caused him to be born without sight, or did he, somehow, do something that brought this about?”

by bob

May 10, 2016

Who is to blame? sinned, this man or his parents?
You may remember the story. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and see a man who was blind. In fact he had been blind from birth. So they ask Jesus “Whose fault is it that this person is blind?” “Did his parents do something that caused him to be born without sight, or did he, somehow, do something that brought this about?”

Jesus reply was “neither.” Rather it happened so that God can be glorified.

I’ve been thinking about this passage a lot in light of the hero’s journey, which I wrote about yesterday.

I think those of us in the church have messed up views of people who suffer. I’m not saying we don’t help, because I think historically, while the church has had a much publicised dark side, it also has a great history of helping those who suffer. And I believe still a lot of churches and people in them help when they see a need that touches them.

The messed up view that I believe we have is how we view the person suffering. And I’m thinking, not of the person in some far away place, I’m thinking of the people we know personally who are in the midst of a chapter 2.

Our default is to do what the disciples did with the blind man.

“Wow, look what that person is going through. I wonder what they did?”
“Look at what their kids are doing. I wonder what kind of parents they are.”
“That isn’t working out like they planned. I wonder if God is really in it.”
“Oh, they have Type 1 diabetes. I guess they ate too much sugar.”

We are part of a faith whose centre is a suffering Messiah. We are part of a church with an early leader who wrote, that he wanted to know Christ and share in his sufferings.

I mean we have a chapter in our scriptures that we refer to as “Heroes of the Faith,” complete with stories of men and women who went through horrible suffering…and many of them didn’t even get out of chapter 2.

We know this, yet we continue to fall into the trap of blaming and judging the one suffering.

Miroslav Volf tells the story of being on a train with a man who had two misbehaving children (I think it is in the book Free of Charge, but someone can correct me if I’m wrong). He got more and more frustrated with the man and his unwillingness to control his children and finally told him to please mind his children. The man apologised and explained that they’d just come from the hospital where the boy’s mother had just died and he was in a daze and trying to figure out what to do next.

On the surface, it was easy to look at this person, and make judgements about him and his lack of parenting skills. But, once you know his story, we shift from “What’s wrong with him?” to “What’s wrong with me?”

It hurts to be judged by people who don’t know your story. Yet it is a reality that often part of chapter 2, while you go through a time of suffering, like Job, you’ll have a group of ’people ‘friends’ come around who have easy answers to your problems, which are by the way, simply the result of something you must have done.

Unless we have been allowed in to a person’s story…into their chapter 2, our commentary will be far more damaging than helpful.

There are 5 damaging results of our judging people in chapter 2 of their stories.

1. We believe others are not as good as us.

We all sin and fall short of God’s glory. That’s fundamental to what we believe. But, if I look at you and wonder what you must have done to be going through what you are going through, I have made a judgement that your sin is worse than mine. Obviously what I’m doing hasn’t risen to the level of “suffering worthy.” Or perhaps your decision making ability is just bad.

We end up with a sense that we are doing okay, all the while walking around with beam sticking out of our eye.

2. We end up with a punitive view of God.

Think about the apostles’ question. Because basically they asked Jesus, “Why did God strike that man with blindness, when he was just a baby?” When we view suffering as punishment from God, we end up with God more like Zeus firing lightning bolts, than a loving Father who sent his son to take our punishment upon himself.
Believing in a punitive god who just waiting to smite people who sin will without question impact how you relate to God…and not in a good way.

3. We discount and avoid the process of discipleship.

There are various ‘christian-isms’ that drive me insane. For example, “Don’t pray for patience because, God will give it to you.” Usually followed by a couple hearty belly laughs. Because remaining a reactive, impatient hot head is so much better than actually learning patience, because there might be some discomfort involved in the process of becoming patient.
And I get that it’s a joke. It just isn’t funny. It might be funny if the church were full of the most patient, non-reactive people on the planet…but.

Basically, don’t become a disciple because discipleship is hard.
While God doesn’t punish us, he does prune…(take a look at a pair of pruning shears and tell me that sounds like an enjoyable process). But if suffering is something to be avoided at all costs, or ended as quickly as possible, then the process of discipleship is something that is going to be avoided too.

4. We look for escape instead of God.

This ties in a bit with what I just wrote. When we are looking for the quickest way out of suffering, we are not looking for God. When we focus only on, “how do I get out of this,” we are not asking, “God what are you doing in the midst of this? And what are you wanting me to do/learn?” And again, discipleship is frustrated.

 5. We go through our chapter 2 stories in isolation.

Sadly the church is for many an unsafe place to share your chapter 2 stories. We know how people respond to them. We know how we’ve responded. And so regardless of what is going on, when asked, we say we’re doing good and ask for prayer for some vague unspoken request.

It just feels safer. And it shouldn’t be like that.

As many of you know, Liz and I got off a plane in Dublin and walked into a chapter 2 story. And while we experienced a lot of what I’ve written about here, we connected with friends who went through very similar stories…people in Africa, and people here in Dublin. People that we could talk to, get emotional with, pray with, be encouraged by…and hear say “we get what you’re going through-you’re not crazy.”

It was them as well as other friends who took time to hear our story, to listen without judging, who gave us the courage to allow chapter 2 to run its course.

If you allow yourself to enter fully into the story that God is inviting you into, there is going to be a chapter 2…perhaps more than one. There is some reality to the fact that we have to go through chapter 2 on our own, but don’t have to do it in isolation.

A few years ago I heard someone say, we don’t know if a story is a comedy or a tragedy until we read the final chapter. I like that.

This is the second in a series of posts on the Hero’s Journey. I hope you’ll read post 1 and post 3.

What about Bob?


I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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