Somebody who has been reading these posts on faith asked a good question: “What if my suffering is God punishing me?” When we are tempted to turn back from our faith, is it always because we are experiencing some kind of attack? What if God is doing it to us? Let’s sort this out.
The last post, about keeping our eye on Jesus (See “Keep the Faith – Part 5“) did not go far enough. Here’s the next line from Hebrews:
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:3)
Much of the suffering one experiences in following Jesus, comes from opposition from sinful men. Jesus clearly said:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (John 15:18)
But there is another Source of some of the hardship we face as followers of Jesus. Some of it comes from God. But it’s not punishment, it’s discipline. Punishment is a penalty that is due for something wrong. Jesus took the punishment for all our sins; there is no further punishment due. Discipline, on the other hand, is correction for a tendency we have formed that is wrong. Discipline shapes us and steers us in a positive direction.
And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
Discipline is given to encourage us because we are loved. True, he uses the word, punishes, in that quote from Proverbs, but does so with the meaning of working to produce good in us. This whole passage is well worth chewing over, but here is another quote from it that makes the same point:
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:10-11)
See the difference? Hope that helps. My sense is that this is a question we all ask ourselves from time to time and it is good to get the truth of it, stated clearly, right from Scripture.