In the Gospel of John, several disciples asked Jesus who to blame for the tragedy of someone being born blind? Jesus answered, “Nobody. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (9.3).
Blame is a funny thing. It allows us to put the cause of something on another person. If I stub my toe, I can wonder aloud, “Who put that chair there?!” Finding the culprit who placed the offending chair won’t reduce the pain in my toe. So why is blame important?
In his book Our Second Birth, Henri Nouwen reflects on this idea of blame and the amount of energy people put into finding someone to blame. He provides a litany of various people groups to blame for tragedies: “our parents, ourselves, the immigrants, the Jews, the gays, the blacks, the fundamentalists, the Catholics [sic].”
Nouwen’s honesty includes acknowledging the strange satisfaction in being able to point at someone to blame. When someone else is the cause, then we don’t have to feel bad because it wasn’t our fault. Or, if we blame ourselves, we can feel bad about the tragedy and know why it happened.
In John 9.3, Jesus denies us the chance to solve problems by blaming someone else. Nouwen writes, “The challenge he poses is to discern in the midst of our darkness the light of God. In Jesus’ vision, everything, even the greatest tragedy, can become an occasion in which God’s works can be revealed.”
In Jesus’ vision, everything, even the greatest tragedy, can become an occasion in which God’s works can be revealed.Henri Nouwen
What would our lives be like if we could move beyond blame? Instead, we could move toward proclaiming the works of God in our midst, even when they are hard to see. Everyone experiences some kind of tragedy. Nouwen lists: death, depression, betrayal, rejection, poverty, separation, loss, and so on. Often, we have no control over the tragedies we encounter, but we do have a choice in how we respond.
When something bad happens, do we look for someone to blame, or do we look for opportunities to see God at work?
Nouwen points to the Hebrew Bible. It’s a collection of human tragedies, “but when these tragedies are lived and remembered as the context in which God’s unconditional love for the people of Israel is revealed, this story becomes sacred history.”