“What did I do to deserve this?”
“Is this my fault?”
When faced with hardship, many of us ask ourselves these questions. On the other hand, some of us voice the following sentiments.
“It doesn’t matter what I do; God will forgive me.”
“It doesn’t really matter what you believe, as long as you’re a good person.”
These questions all point to a more fundamental issue: does God punish us for our sin?
What is the punishment for sin?
“For the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23 tells us. The Bible is very clear; those who sin earn eternal punishment. The holiness of God is like a consuming fire, such that the impure can’t stand in his presence and live (Hebrews 12:29, Exodus 33:20). The holiness and justice of God requires that sin be punished, and that the sinner be separated from God.
However, our God is also a loving God. His desire is to be with us. This is why Romans 6:23 has a second part: “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God poured out the punishment for sin upon Jesus. “The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). The Bible tells us, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Therefore, for those who accept Christ as Lord and Savior, the punishment for sin is no longer upon us. God no longer punishes us for our sin; Jesus took that punishment.
Do bad things still happen because we sin?
If through Jesus we are forgiven of all sin, does that mean we can now sin with impunity?
The Bible refers to the discipline of the Lord multiple times. Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Hebrews 12 explains this in greater depth. Sometimes, it says, bad things that happen to us are a result of God’s discipline. They are not a retribution or punishment for sin; rather, they are a correction, as a parent would correct a child. They are not intended to break down, but rather to increase holiness in the believer (Hebrews 12:10).
There are also societal or earthly consequences of sin. Just because God forgives us of murder doesn’t mean a murderer doesn’t have to serve jail time. Some negative experiences will flow naturally out of poor choices, such as financial hardship after gambling away money. These are not God’s “punishment;” they are natural results of our actions.
Is everything bad that happens to me because God is “disciplining” me?
There are several reasons people might suffer that have nothing to do with discipline.
1. Show God’s Glory
“‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him’” (John 9:3).
The disciples were operating under a common assumption of the time that any suffering one experienced was the result of sin that had not been confessed and atoned for. Jesus gave an alternate reason: a person might suffer so that God would be glorified. A person might suffer for a time so that they might experience an even greater good in the future.
2. Improve Us and Bring Us Closer to God
When times are good, it’s easy to forget about our need for God, even though He is the one sustaining the very world we live in. It’s easy to become complacent in our relationship with Him.
Thus, Paul writes, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).
Suffering helps us to lean on God and improves our character. Thus, sometimes suffering is for this reason rather than as the result of any poor choices.
3. A Result of Following Christ
In John 15:18, Jesus says, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” Christians face discrimination, persecution, and even death for their faith. In this case, the bad things that happen are because the Christian is doing something right. Jesus warned that a sinful world would hate those who were “not of the world” (John 17:16).
Paul encourages us to rejoice in these sufferings (as noted above in Romans 5:3-4).
4. The Natural Result of a Fallen World
In the end, the reason suffering exists at all is indeed because of sin. This sin isn’t necessarily our personal sin, however; it is the sin of mankind.
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)
Creation itself is broken because of Adam and Eve’s original sin. Natural disasters, disease, famine—all of these things exist because of a broken world. Suffering from these shouldn’t be assumed to be the judgment of God. Rather, they are realities that we face living in an imperfect world.
Another reality of living in a world corrupted by sin is that we can suffer from the sins of others, whether through violence, selfishness, or injustice. Suffering caused by the sins of others is not our fault and also shouldn’t be assumed to come as discipline or punishment from God.
The Final Punishment
God does punish us for our sin. His justice is real. However, His desire is to be with us. This is why He provided Jesus. Those who accept Christ need not fear punishment.
And one day, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Photo Credit: Unsplash/Marta Mena Gonzalez
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.