I often hear people say that the bad things that happen to them are God’s punishment for something wrong they have done. I have a friend who desires to find someone to marry, but has said she doesn’t think God will ever bring her a mate because of all the wrong she has done in the past with respect to relationships. In the news we hear televangelists say natural disasters are God’s punishment for the sins of the people in the area hit by the disaster.
But I don’t think God works that way.
James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” James 1:17-18 (NIV). God desires to give good gifts, not punishment.
I also think of Job, a man who endured great suffering and loss. But none of it was punishment from God. Rather, all of his sorrows came from Satan, albeit with God’s permission, so that Satan would see that God’s redeemed and faithful servants would never reject Him simply because of trials they face. See Job 1-2 (NIV).
For the believer in Christ Jesus, all the punishment for our sins has already been meted out at the cross. As Jesus said, “It is finished.” John 19:30 (NIV). To believe that we need to suffer punishment for our own sin is to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient. The apostle John wrote, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:1-2 (NIV). God does not seek to punish, but to restore and redeem those He loves.
There are, however, natural consequences of sin.
If we are gluttonous, we are likely to be overweight and suffer various illnesses that come from poor eating habits.
If we get drunk, especially habitually, we will suffer in terms of health problems, possibly losing a job, or having financial difficulties because we spend too much money on alcohol.
If we get involved with other drugs, the same problems can happen, perhaps even worse if they are illegal drugs because we could end up in prison for breaking the law.
If we are sexually promiscuous we may contract diseases, end up with a child we didn’t want, or will suffer emotional damages and loneliness.
If we gossip and badmouth others, we will damage others view of us and damage our relationships.
Every sin has natural consequences. Sometimes we are fortunate to avoid the worst of the natural consequences, but not always. And all sin results in the natural consequence of separating us from God because our guilt and shame cause us to avoid God. That has been the case from the first sin in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve hid from God.
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”Genesis 3:6-10 (NIV).
God knows what is best for us and has declared what is sin based on His superior knowledge of what is beneficial for our physical and emotional well-being. Just as He gave to Adam and Eve all that they needed in the Garden, He desires to give us good and perfect gifts.
In addition to the natural consequences of individual sinful behavior, the sinful nature of mankind over the centuries has brought into our lives a brokenness that leads to pain and suffering. The evil nature of some people can lead to suffering by others, such as a violent man who beats his wife, or the drunk driver who causes an accident that kills others, or a serial killer who tortures his victims. Our sinfulness is also engrained in our DNA and can lead to sickness and disease that brings suffering as well.
So if you are suffering and think that God is punishing you, think again. Return to God and seek His face, seek the good and perfect gifts that He has offered. Lean on Jesus in your suffering because He desires to restore and redeem you, not cause you more suffering. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5 (NIV). Come into the light and rest in His love.