August 11, 2017

Jesus and the disciples pass by a man born blind. They ask Jesus a simple question: “[W]ho sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2b). Blindness is not a natural thing. We are born to have two eyes to see the glory of God reflected in His creation. If someone is deprived of vision, something has gone wrong.

It’s our instinct to protect ourselves from things that seem to disturb the natural order. We want to shield ourselves from the wrongness, assuring ourselves that it won’t affect us. Surely the blindness is the man’s fault, or his parents’, but it isn’t something that could happen to us. We keep the sin as far away from us as possible and as close to the source of the trouble as we can. That way we don’t feel obligated to get involved, to show empathy, to realize that the man born blind is one of us.

Netflix has released a new series, Anne with an E, based on the classic Canadian Anne of Green Gables novels. The first two episodes focus more than the books do on Anne’s status as an orphan. She has been abused and treated as a servant by foster “parents” before being brought into the household of aging brother and sister farmers Matthew and Marilla. But even the Cuthberts, at least at first, are thinking less about giving an orphan a home and more about the future of their homestead.

The community, including many local church members, finds Anne suspect and the Cuthberts a little crazy for taking in this girl. Aren’t orphans thieves? Didn’t one burn down his family’s home just recently? Who would trust their children to play with her? Behind all these suspicions one can hear the voice of Christ’s disciples echoing across the ages: “Who sinned, Anne or her parents, that she would be left an orphan?”

Protestants in certain circles used to have the habit of uttering a “there but for the grace of God go I” when considering tragedies like a man born blind or a child in need of a home. Behind the phrase is the idea that nothing good we have is merited. All of it is a gift. After all, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17a). We did not and do not deserve parents, even the imperfect ones we may have been blessed to have. They are gifts given to us by the undeserved kindness of a God who, through Jesus Christ, is our heavenly Father.

The same James who wrote about the good gifts of God distills the good works our Father desires from us in this way: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). After all, apart from Jesus we would also be orphans, without true family in the world. Why else would Paul call us God’s adopted sons and daughters or compare us to a bride for Christ our husband? (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 5:29-30).

Thanks to Adam, our human father, we lost the right to consider God our heavenly Father. We became spiritual orphans. But the Father of lights sent His treasured possession, His one natural Son, into our world to die for Adam’s rebellion and our own. Now we have a forever family—the family of God. Unlike Anne, we find a Father and a Brother who welcome us into Their eternal home, by giving us Their Spirit to live in us.

Who sinned that people are born blind or that children are born orphaned—or even killed by their own parents before having a chance to exit the womb? All of us, all of Adam’s true children, bear responsibility. But now in Christ our consciences have been cleaned. Now we can turn to orphans and welcome them into our earthly homes. We see in them ourselves, apart from Jesus. We visit them with the love we have been shown in Christ at the cross.

In adoption, we take the question of who has sinned and turn it into a statement of Who has brought salvation. We no longer see children who need a forever home and turn away. Now we see an opportunity to show the glory of God, while it is still light. Because Christ wants the works of God displayed in the mercy we show in Christ Jesus.

Rev. Charles St-Onge serves the Lord through The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Latin America. In his role as an area facilitator for this region, Rev. St-Onge helps strengthen Christ’s work in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. He is also a member of the Lutherans For Life Board of Directors.