Does God Punish Our Sin With Disaster, Troubles and Pain? #354 Why Do Bad Things Happen to Bad People?
Happy Tuesday, friends! Our readings today begin with 2nd Chronicles 16, then Zechariah 2, John 5 and Revelation 6.
Commenter Og explained the end of the 100 plus year Herrnhut prayer meeting thusly, “I’m going to guess that the prayer meeting ended because someone forgot the custom and said “Amen.” I think you might be on to something brother – imagine being the guy that accidentally said, ‘amen,’ and then realized he had just ended the longest prayer meeting in history!
Our question today is a pretty big one, and we are going to ask and attempt to answer it in a variety of ways. – are disasters, injuries, sickness, troubles, trials and other bad things that happen to us the result of sin? The answer to that question is really pretty easy, and it is an unqualified ‘Yes!’ Prior to the fall of man in Genesis 3, there was no sickness, death, or suffering…all was peace and blessing, right up until the point that sin entered the world and brought with it a host of everything bad.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned. Romans 5:12
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:20-23
So basically, all suffering is the result of sin – directly, or indirectly. However, we haven’t fully answered our question yet. We need to personalize it. Is the bad thing happening right now in our lives – maybe a health struggle, a financial issues, relationship troubles, etc – are those bad things happening because of sin? And the answer is far less definitive here. Let’s read our John 5 passage, and pay particular attention to Jesus’ charge to the man He heals at the pool of Bethsaida.
14 After this, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well. Do not sin anymore, so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.”
Just based on this passage, we might conclude a few things – maybe that this paralytic was in the shape he was in because of his sin. If we continued that thought, we might personalize it, and wonder if whatever bad thing that is happening to us, or has happened to us happened because we were in sin. I gather from this passage that such a thing is a possibility – it is quite certain that God disciplines those He loves (see Hebrews 12:4-11), and it is certainly possible that discipline could include a trial or a health issue. I note that discipline and punishment are two different things, however, and I generally believe the Bible teaches us that God does not discipline us merely to bring harm and pain, but He disciplines His people for their long-term benefit, just like a good and loving father does to their children.
In looking at this passage, however, we must be careful in two different ways. First, Jesus doesn’t directly state that this man was paralyzed because of sin, so we must not infer what wasn’t implied. Second, we need to realize that this Scripture is just a sliver of the whole counsel of God on our question of “why bad things happen,” so we don’t need to build the entirety of our answer on one single verse. – We need to look at other Scripture too! That said, we don’t want to miss the warning in this passage either, because it is important: Those who persist in sin could be opening themselves up to something bad happening. I am not sure what is worse than being paralyzed, but anything worse than that would most certainly be considered catastrophic. We can safely conclude here, and via numerous other passages, that God does sometimes allow or cause bad things to happen to those who are persisting in sin.
Another angle to our question: Does every person with an existing medical condition (paralysis of some sort in our John 5 case…but I am sure you can imagine many others too!) show evidence that God is punishing them for their sin? And the answer is absolutely not, as we will see shortly in John 9:
As he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus answered. “This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him
It is a legitimate question, and I am glad the disciples asked it. Was a man born with a birth problem being cursed because of the sin of his parents, or his future sin? The answer, according to Jesus, is NEITHER. Which tells us that not every affliction is brought about DIRECTLY because of sin.
What about natural disasters and mass casualty incidents, and things like that? Famously, a televangelist in 2005 noted his belief that God sent hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans because of the collective sin of its people. Could this be true? Of course it could be true, but it is a very presumptuous thing to say, apart from God clearly revealing His will about such a thing. Besides that, we have a scene in Luke 13 where Jesus gives us some insights into disasters and their results to us:
At that time, some people came and reported to him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And he responded to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were more sinful than all the other Galileans because they suffered these things?3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.4 Or those eighteen that the tower in Siloam fell on and killed—do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem?5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.”
The bottom line, as we have discussed before, is that we should heartily avoid being presumptuous about trials, troubles, injuries, deaths, sicknesses, and every other disaster. God is working all things together for the good of those who know Him and are called according to his purpose, and we most certainly can’t see all of the ways that He is doing this, so let us not speak confidently and boldly about that which God hasn’t informed us. Let’s close with some wisdom from Tim Keller on this subject: (Remembering that Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends who tells him -wrongly- that his suffering has been sent as punishment from God to him for sinning.)
God lets suffering come into Job’s life so that today he’s one of the most famous people who ever lived, one of the greatest figures in the history of the human race. Millions of people have been changed by his example. Why? Did Job have some kind of tragic flaw, something God was trying to deal with? No. It was like the man born blind, that the glory of God would be known in the world. But Job couldn’t have seen it. Not only couldn’t Job see it, but also Joseph couldn’t see it. Nobody can see it, and Eliphaz is absolutely wrong to say, “Well, you have to figure out what God is trying to do here.”
Now here’s the problem, and this is what really concerns us. Eliphaz’s counsel is awfully close to what you hear in an awful lot of churches today. There are an awful lot of churches where you’re going to hear people say, “If you’re sick, it’s because of a lack of faith,” or “If you’re not prospering financially, it’s because of a lack of faith, or you’re not really surrendering.” Same thing.
Do you know what’s wrong about this? This is illogical and moralistic. It’s illogical, first of all, in the idea that when you start to suffer, you can figure out what God is trying to do. To say, “Oh, I know what God is trying to do; I need to change this and this and everything will be all right,” is as stupid as to say, “God doesn’t have any purpose; God has abandoned me.” How do you know?
Look at Joseph. Look at Job. Look at all of these stories we see in the Scripture. No one can know from your vantage point, and no one can know, many times, after years and years and years of going through it, what in the world God is up to. So guess what? You’re going to have to trust him. It’s illogical to think you can figure it out or you can see it.
Not only that, but it’s moralistic. The real problem Eliphaz has is he doesn’t understand the meaning of grace. He sees the Bible as a record of people who, by living well, get God’s reward and blessing. Actually, look at the Bible. Do you want to know what it’s a record of? Yeah, Abraham and Job are relatively better, and Jacob, Joseph, Jonah, and people like that are relatively worse, but they all suffered. Do you know why they suffered? Because of God’s love. They suffered because God was trying to enlarge them.
The Bible is not a record of people living right and getting the blessing; it’s a record of people who are so broken and so corrupt, they never would have been able to rise above their own brokenness and corruption except the grace of God broke into their life, usually in the form of disappointment, discouragement, and disaster
Timothy J. Keller, The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive (New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013).