By Beth Groh
“Maybe they deserved it.”
Ouch. What a cruel notion.
But it’s one that may sneak into our thoughts if we’re not careful to know—and stand upon—God’s Word. Frankly, judgmental thinking is Satan’s way of tempting us to try and scoot God off His judgment seat so we can do that job for Him.
And for those who let that thought cross their mind when they see the massive scale of human suffering in Japan, well…they had better think twice about assuming they know God’s thoughts.
So with a healthy Fear-of-the-Lord, let’s put on our biblical worldview glasses. And let’s examine what God’s Word says about punishment, not what we think about it.
The Book of Job is a great place to start. Much of that book contains the words of Job’s ever-so-helpful friends, who tell Job that he must have done something to deserve God’s wrath. The loss of his children, his wealth and his health—it all had to be God’s punishment for a secret sin.
But the Lord Himself shot down that theory, calling Job a righteous man. God allowed this unfathomable testing of Job’s faith, but He did not inflict the pain and suffering as Job’s well-meaning friends surmised.
Fast-forward to the New Testament—and Jesus’ take on suffering.
In one of the most vivid examples of His personal grief, we remember the story of His friend Lazarus’ death. Despite His own sorrow—remember, this is where we get the famous “Jesus wept” verse—Jesus said there was a higher purpose: “[I]t is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)
Another example? Read the story of the man born blind, whose sight was miraculously restored by Jesus. The disciples assumed his blindness must have been a punishment for the man’s sin or the sins of his parents. “ 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned,' said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” (John 9:3)
In all three cases, we see that God USED the suffering as part of His greater plan…but no indication—zero—that God CAUSED such pain as a punishment. What a comfort for us!
Yet being the loving God that He is, He certainly would not want suffering to go to waste if it could serve a greater good. As we’re reminded in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Yes, there is pain, suffering and death in this world. We can thank “Original Sin” through Adam and Eve for that—and our own sinful natures (as we read in Part 1 in this series).
Therefore, yes, as a result of living in a fallen world, we will experience the painful consequences of an earth and humanity that’s imperfect…that has fallen, through sin, into an earthly world far short of the perfect plan God laid out at the time of Creation.
We suffer, daily, the effects of that sinful world, too—hurt feelings, sadness, even pain and injury that may result from a broken world filled with fires, earthquakes or manmade disasters. And it may feel like a “punishment” when we suffer the pain of our own illness or injury, or see the misery of someone we love.
Quite often, though, we’re simply suffering the logical consequences of our own sinful nature—or the consequences of living in a sinful world. (Lousy diet? Poor health. Distracted driving? Terrible car wreck. Willful child? Strife at home or school.)
So let’s be careful about sitting in God’s judgment seat by calling out “punishment” when instead, every day, we witness the natural consequences of living in a fallen world…and experience the effects of our own sin and those of others.
And let us put aside those judgments or speculations and instead, pray for God’s powerful hand of restoration and salvation to wash over the devastated land of Japan so His mighty works can witness to millions.
For more insights on this important issue to discuss with your family, please check out the resources on sin and suffering provided at Answers in Genesis. I want to give a personal thanks to Dr. Tommy Mitchell, who wrote a tremendous outreach resource tract, “Why Does God’s Creation Include Death and Suffering?”