Is God Punishing Me?
- Written by Jody Vickery Jody Vickery
- Published: 15 September 2017 15 September 2017
Someone near Houston, TX is wondering. So, too, someone along the Florida coast or on one of the Caribbean islands. Is God punishing me? Us? Is that why Harvey poured 14 trillion gallons of water on Houston? Did Irma wreak her havoc to punish south Florida sins?
But it’s not just violent weather victims who wonder.
Some of us have recently lost loved ones. Some of us are caring for people who no longer know our names – or even their own. Others are in a fight for their lives against an invasive disease. Or we are coming to terms with the truth that the number of days we have left on this earth is a fraction of the days we have already lived. Some of us are facing marital struggles. Or we are living with the fallout of a marriage meltdown. Others are experiencing major transitions in life as the nest empties. Our storms have as many names as the hurricanes the Weather Channel tracks.
And we wonder. Is this storm, this sickness, this struggle God’s judgement for my sin?
It’s a reasonable question. Just about every time a hurricane slams into a coastal city, every time an earthquake levels a community, every time a disaster of almost any kind affects a large group of people, there are religious leaders on the left and right who announce with great certainty that God is punishing those people for some sin. If that’s true of the big disasters, why isn’t true of the individual earthquakes we endure?
The idea that God sends natural disasters on wicked cities is, to begin with, not true. It’s not even logical. If God wipes out cities like Houston or Tampa because of their sin, why is Los Vegas still standing? Why did places like Atlanta, Montgomery or Selma survive the 50’s and 60’s? If God gives sinners cancer, why is Hugh Hefner still alive and kicking? He’s been exploiting women since 1953.
Jesus actually dealt with this very question once.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1 – 5)
Jesus didn’t blame those who suffered for what happened to them. In fact, he flatly denied that bad things happen to people because they have been bad. “I’ll tell you, no!” He said it twice!
Are there consequences for sinful choices? Of course. But there is an eternity of difference between consequences and condemnation. Jesus said that the most important thing you can do is to keep your relationship with God up to date. You’re going to need him when your storm hits.
And then there are those stories in the Bible that center on the lives of people who were clearly living the will of God to the best of their abilities – and still faced unbelievable storms. Take the apostle Paul. Other than Jesus himself, no one lived more intentionally and passionately for God than he.
In Acts 27 – 28, he has been through three trials with three different government officials. At his third trial, he appeals to Caesar and is remanded into the custody of a Roman centurion. Along with nearly three hundred others, they sail for Rome but almost immediately encounter a high category storm. When the ship begins to break up on the reefs of a small island, the soldiers decide to kill all the prisoners to prevent their escape.
Paul is in chains, under arrest, on his way to Rome for trial, at the mercy of a group of soldiers who are thinking about killing him, and the ship he is on is breaking up under his feet. Can it get any worse?
It can always get worse. Every soul on the ship makes it to land, some by swimming, some by floating in on remnants of the wreckage. They are greeted by friendly islanders who build a fire. When Paul throws an arm load of wood on the fire, a snake slithers out of the heat and bites him on the hand. It’s worth noting the islander’s response because it sounds like what people sometimes think when bad things happen.
When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6 The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. (Acts 28:4 – 6)
Paul finally made it to Rome where he wrote several letters that we still read today. And he did live happily ever after. But not before several more storms. Including one named Nero. Tradition tells us that Paul died a violent death in Rome at the hands of one of history’s most notorious and crazed rulers.
That’s just one season’s worth of storms in Paul’s life. He faced many others (1 Corinthians 11:24ff). The storms and struggles Paul faced did not fall on him because God was angry or because God was punishing him. They fell on him because he was human.
Here’s the deal – the presence of storms in your life does not mean the anger of God. The presence of storms in your life does not mean the absence of God. It does not mean that God has abandoned you or forgotten you or broken faith with you.
Storms are going to come. Most of the time, no one knows why and those who say they do are wrong. Here’s what I am certain of: If you and I are going to find a faith that weathers the worst, we have got to have confidence that God is on our side, that he is merciful and faithful, that he is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
He is. And he does.