By Victor Ochieng
One listener of Ask Pastor John by the name Jesse asked a question that many Christians fumble with – whether the sufferings we face today are a punishment from God for our sins?
Jesse’s question asked in part: “God sent his Son into the world to suffer with us and for us. This means that, if we trust him, none of our sufferings are punishment for sin. Christ bore all of our punishment for sin.’ But there are very real consequences for our sin in this world, both on ourselves and on others, both for believers and unbelievers alike. For example, financial hardships following selfish overspending, or s*xually transmitted disease following promiscuity. How do we see this as a discipline and not punishment?”
In an audio response that was transcribed and posted on DesiringGod.ORG, a few things were looked into to draw a clear distinction between sufferings occasioned by God’s retribution and discipline. Although we all suffer, whether as punishment by God against His enemies or whether He’s disciplining His child, the most important thing is understanding which side you are on.
God’s punishment against his enemies refers to the sufferings humans face, not for purposes of restoration or purification, but strictly to stamp His just nature; His retribution. We all know that no sin goes unpunished. This applies to both God’s enemies and His children. In the case of His enemies, however, He gives them what they deserve as punishment for their wrongdoing, with the ultimate end being eternal death.
Just like it’s written in Revelation 16:5-6: “I heard the angel in charge of the waters say, ‘Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’”
On the other hand, God disciplines His beloved children with the aim of restoring and purifying them.
In the Bible book of Hebrews 12:5-11, God talks about His discipline for His children in a completely different light compared to his wrath against his enemies.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by Him” – Hebrews 12:5. The scriptures go on to say, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom He receives.” In fact, a question is even raised in the book, asking, “For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
Even from a human perspective, parents discipline their children with the intention of getting them back on the right path; so that they do what’s right; so that the child grows up into a responsible person. The intention is clearly not to cause them physical pain or to destroy them completely but to make them better people.
At the end of the day, punishment, whether for restoration or retribution purposes, is painful. The advantage God’s children have is that they understand why they go through suffering and it helps them desist from their evil ways.