by Phil Baker
The biggest obstacle most people face to belief in a loving god is the problem of pain and suffering in the world. If there is a loving god, why is there evil in the world? How could a god who loves us allow school shootings and disease? These things exist. Therefore, a loving god must not exist. Even those who believe God does exist struggle with this paradox. But we hold to our faith and wait for the day when we can ask God face-to-face why he allows such atrocities.
The disciples didn’t have to wait. They had Jesus right there with them.
And, guess what! They asked him!
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
It was common then to have a karma-like view of life. If you did bad things, bad things would happen to you. Jesus tried to counter this type of thinking by showing that bad things happen (a man is born blind) so that good things can happen (Jesus can heal him and God can be glorified).
Jesus healing the man is an act of grace. It is an example of God’s mercy sent to us through Jesus. So it’s fitting that the name of the pool is “Sent”. Siloam was a small neighborhood in Jerusalem. It is mentioned one other time, in the book of Luke. Jesus was teaching and was again asked about the problem of sin and evil. As he explained that there are no degrees of sin – everyone is a sinner – he referenced a recent event where a tower in Siloam collapsed and killed 18 people. Like the blind man, everyone wondered if these 18 deserved their fate through something they had done. Again Jesus corrected their thinking. But instead of showing grace and mercy, this time he highlighted the need for repentance.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Think about these two references to Siloam. A tower and a pool. One is a tall building. The other is a low well. One is a positive edifice. The other a negative depression. One reaches toward heaven. The other is recessed into the earth. At one, mercy is shown. At the other, salvation was needed.
Jesus had two sides that were just as opposing. At times he reached down to touch the lowly. Other times he raised his hands to praise his father. Sometimes he showed mercy (and it was gratefully received). Other times he prescribed repentance (and it was sadly rejected). What he was doing was setting an example for us to follow. We are to be like him. We are to be both a pool and a tower. We are to serve humbly and to proclaim boldly. Reach down and reach up. We are called to be both visible and invisible. We are to be the visible, tangible hands and feet of Jesus in the world. While, at the same time, we are to divert attention from ourselves to the source of our love.
When I think about the problem of evil in the world (and in my own life), God twists the question around on me. If there are Christians, why is there evil in the world? Then I am forced to ask myself if I am a tower and a pool? Am I reaching down to heal? Am I standing up for righteousness? Am I both brave and humble? Who am I in this messed-up world?
The answer comes back to me – I am Siloam. I am sent.