When I enter my weekly Bible study, I know I’ll hear laughter. Not always from every person, but definitely from John. His laughter is loud and rhythmic—that sort of from-the-gut outburst of emotion. He’ll laugh after a set of worship songs, during a prayer request, or when my two-year-old son runs and jumps into his lap. One thing makes his laughter unusual, though—John is blind. What’s more? John’s wife died unexpectedly, removing the one who filled in for his eyes. But John still laughs.
Why does he not resent God? Why the joy? John would affirm, with Paul, that “God works all things together for good” (Rom 8:28). But Romans doesn’t speak of blindness, death or laughter. And it certainly doesn’t explain why good people suffer. Rather, this passage puts the focus on God: “Who are you, O person, to answer back to God? Will the clay say to its Potter, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ” (9:20).
In this passage, Paul is wrestling with Israel’s rejection of Christ. He uses the example of Pharaoh to make the point that we don’t always know why or how God acts. We don’t know why Pharaoh was raised up as a leader, other than that he was a tool in God’s plan—a tool that ultimately led to God’s glory.
The imagery that Paul uses can also be found in Jeremiah. God instructs the prophet to go to a potter’s house. Jeremiah watches as the clay is “spoiled in the potter’s hand,” and then “reworked … into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jer 18:4). Then God says, “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand” (18:6).
The Bible doesn’t tell us why bad things happen to good people, but it affirms that we serve a Potter who molds His clay with wisdom, intention and goodness. Paul insists that God is faithful to His promises (Rom 9:6–8)—merciful and compassionate to those He loves (9:14–18). God will—in the end—break open His treasury and lavish His people with “riches of his glory” (9:23).
When our life experiences don’t seem to reflect this, we need to rest in God. Sometimes the best antidote for our suffering is not an answer but an affirmation that God is God.
John believes this. He loves God. And he is happy that God is on the throne and he is not. And that’s why John laughs—in that deep, rhythmic, from-the-gut sort of way.
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Biblical passages are the author’s translation.