1. Schoonover-Shoffner, Kathy

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I discovered preparing this issue of JCN that it's easier to look at HIV/AIDS from a distance than close up. Knowing that HIV has spread predominantly through sexual contact, especially promiscuous sex, made it easy to put the disease in a box. But something that has nagged at the back of my mind came to the surface as I studied HIV/AIDS.

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I became aware several years ago that a dear friend of mine is HIV positive. My friend was sexually promiscuous long ago, and then came into a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus. Knowing sex outside of marriage was wrong, my friend became and remained celibate, never marrying. So the diagnosis of HIV was unexpected. It sent my friend into deep depression and spiritual doubt. Why would God allow this after leaving a life of sin? My friend has given up much to be Christ's disciple. Why would God permit such dire consequences?


God gave and continues to give my friend a difficult but profound answer to this why question. In John 9, Jesus and his disciples came upon a man who was blind, not from an accident, infection, or anything obvious-he was born blind. Given such a horrible fate, the disciples wanted to know why? They assumed sin was involved, so they asked if the man or his parent's sin caused this. Jesus explained sin had nothing to do with it, saying, "He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him" (vs. 3). Then Jesus healed him. This man was born blind so Jesus could heal him, so that people would recognize the Messiah by his miracles, so that God would be glorified. My friend came to understand that although sins committed long ago had led to HIV, the diagnosis isn't God's judgment. To the contrary, God's works are being revealed though my friend. Already my friend experiences a deeper love of Jesus, saying, "Late at night I can feel God agonizing with me. In the dead of night when it is just me and Jesus, I feel his tears and his love for me."


After discussing John 9 with my friend, God led me to Luke 13. This passage reports people asking Jesus about a horrible fate that befell some Galileans. They came to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God when Roman soldiers, via Governor Pilate's orders, sacrificed them along with pagan sacrifices. Was this judgment from God? Jesus answered, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners [horizontal ellipsis] ? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish [horizontal ellipsis]" (vs. 2-3). Jesus immediately followed with a parable about a man who planted and carefully cared for a fig tree in his vineyard. When the tree should have been producing fruit, it wasn't. Many places in Scripture refer to God investing much in his people but they don't yield fruit either (i.e., Isaiah 5; Jeremiah 2:21; Matthew 21:33-44).


Jesus was saying, rather than wondering about other people's shortcomings, what about your sin? Do you have any idea how much God has invested in you? What fruit have you produced? Jesus tried to get people to stop examining others and look at their own sin, deal with their standing with God, understand their shortcomings.


My nagging thought rose to the surface.


In looking at the problem of HIV/AIDS, I had "ranked" sin. Subconsciously, I'd concluded that sexual promiscuity, illicit IV drug use, and other "big" sins are worse than anything I do. It became clear that in ranking other's sin, I failed to acknowledge how serious my sin is. I also failed to compassionately enter into the suffering of HIV/AIDS. I'd thought why don't people just stop high risk behaviors? I realized they don't stop for the same reasons I don't stop losing my temper, thinking wrong thoughts, overeating, etc.


For me, HIV/AIDS is no longer a problem of "those people." It is my problem to pray and agonize over with Jesus. It is a reminder that we live in a fallen world and are born sinful people, suffering the consequences of sin. And it causes me to appreciate afresh what Jesus did when he died on the cross and was resurrected from the dead for our sin; that he has redeemed the world and all those who come to him.