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It isn’t hard to see that God has created a place called hell to punish the wicked. But, does God punish people for their sins before they die? Does He still punish entire nations of people? Is the wrath of God displayed here and now?
“Is God punishing me?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked this question. It breaks my heart every time. When a person loses a loved one, a job, or anything else that is dear to them it is a normal question to ask. But, it is asked out of a grief-stricken heart. It isn’t asked out of curiosity. It’s a complaint from the bottom of the heart. It is a “root of bitterness” being planted.
If you are asking that question today I want to tell you that God takes no pleasure in the suffering of anyone. He even tells us that it isn’t even right to take pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18). No suffering is pleasurable to us, or to God. But, out of suffering He will bring joy. Trust in that.
I can’t tell you if what you are going through is a result of your sins or not. But I can tell you that even though God does let us face consequences here on earth, not all suffering is because of our own personal sins. Sometimes we suffer because of the world we live in. It’s the world that God will change, and the hurt you feel will become nothing more than a bad dream.
But, let’s take a close look at the question itself. People use the term “act of God” to define a natural disaster or an odd situation where there is some kind of destruction. But does the Bible really teach us that God is doing this? Are natural disasters the wrath of God? Is the suffering of people around the globe His wrath?
To answer that question we are going to examine several passages in the Bible. Keep in mind that the God in these passages is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That means He has not changed in His mercy, long-suffering, love, or His anger and wrath. What He did before He will do today if He so chooses.
Adam and Eve were in the garden when God’s wrath was first seen. The punishment for their sin was death. They did die that day. Their bodies took on death. Their skin cells died, their hair, teeth, everything took on the slow decay of death. It is only by the mercy of God that our bodies heal themselves.
We are all, literally, the walking dead in our bodies. On top of our skin is a small layer of dust. Do you know what dust is? It is dead skin. The only reason we don’t fall into a heap of dust at this moment is the mercy of God. He gives our bodies the power to regenerate moment by moment.
So in all of this do you see the mercy of God? He could have simply let us fall into the dust right then and be done with us. But He didn’t! What did He do instead?
He gave Adam and Eve time. He asked, “Adam, where are you?” It wasn’t because God didn’t know. It was because God was giving Adam time to repent. So instead of immediate judgment, God gave time for mercy. He still does that today.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
But, even though God had mercy on them they were still punished. He sent them out of the Garden of Eden and stripped their power over the earth to command it as they would. Now we have to fight and work with the earth to grow food and provide.
God punished them. But God didn’t unleash all of His wrath upon them. They could have been in hell at that very moment. But God takes no pleasure in punishing people.
The question is HOW did God give them mercy? It is true that God is love, but He is also a judge! The only penalty set for breaking the law is death. How could they receive death and yet still be alive?
21 Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them.
Adam watched the animal take the penalty of death for him. Suddenly, the wrath of God has calmed down. The sacrifice that the animal (let’s say it was a lamb) had made to take the place of Adam now covered Adam’s nakedness. It also hid the sins of Adam.
Was God cruel in this? What had the lamb done to deserve death? Nothing, and that is the point. God loves us. He loved Adam. The Bible says that we are worth more than the animals to God. But the sin of Adam required death, total and complete death. Eve couldn’t pay that debt for Adam because she had sinned too. Adam couldn’t pay the debt for Eve for the same reason.
But the lamb was without guilt. The lamb didn’t have to die for its own sins. If it did then it would have to die twice! But, you only die once. So it became a sacrifice for Adam and Eve. It took the required, total, and complete death in place of them.
Don’t think for one second that God doesn’t care about the animals, though. He does. In fact, He says this in the Bible:
26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
God does care. But despite what anyone may have told you, your life is worth more to God than that of an animal.
We see in this that our sins require justice. One day the skin clothing would fade away, and Adam would be naked before God again. So he needed to continually make a sacrifice to cover his nakedness, his sins. But for us, we have Jesus! A sacrifice that will never fade away. The Bible tells us that after His sacrificial death He now LIVES forever!
In the story of Adam and Eve, we see 3 things. We see that there is an eternal consequence for sin called death. But we also see that there is a more immediate consequence as well and that our sin doesn‘t just affect us. The effects of that sin forced them, and their descendants, out of the garden and into hard labor. And the third thing we see is the mercy and long-suffering of God.
King David is a great example of this. When he sinned he also asked for forgiveness. God did grant that forgiveness, but there were still lasting consequences of that sin.
1 Chronicles 21:8-12
8 And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly. 9 And the Lord spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. 11 So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the Lord, Choose thee 12 Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.
This is what God said to David after David numbered Israel. David had repented and asked for forgiveness, but there was still a consequence of his sin. We see here that though God is full of mercy we still have to face the consequence of sin, at least in a smaller way.
Now, let’s think about that sacrifice again. It died because of the sins of someone else. Here in the story of David, we find that thousands die because of the sin of David. We can either think that God is cruel, or we can try to understand why.
It wasn’t the people that were guilty of David’s sin. But they were still affected by it. That is the exact point! God is showing David, and us, that our sins do not only affect us! Our sins affect everyone and everything around us!
Adam ate from the tree and doomed all men to being subject to death. David counted the number of people in Israel against God’s orders and doomed thousands to death. The effect of sin doesn’t stop with you! It has ripples of evil that spread through eternity.
Try to understand this one thing. ALL are appointed to death. We ALL deserve death. God is the one who chooses our time. So why should we think it is cruel if God chooses our time to be used as a lesson? Why would we not want our death to have some good come out of it? And, if we are innocent and right before God then we lose nothing! To live is Christ, but to die is GAIN.
God was not punishing these people. They were not guilty. But He was using their time and method of death as something that would bring about good.
So God does not just wipe away the consequence for us. For example, when someone commits a crime they are sent to prison. They may repent in prison, and God will forgive them. But they still have to live with the consequence of jail time while here on earth.
Some may say this means God did not really forgive. But this is not the case. God did not kill David that moment or send him to hell. But God did allow some pain to come to David. Why?
6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
You can paraphrase this by saying God will give you a spanking. This isn’t for the purpose of destroying you. It is for the purpose of teaching you.
“But I apologized and I said I wouldn’t ever do it again!” That may be something a child would say to his father before getting a spanking. But if that father wants his child to understand that there are real consequences for a sin he will have to spank him anyway.
What if the father just says, “It’s ok as long as you know better now?” That child is going to think that they can get away with things just by apologizing later. That isn’t the way it works! So God teaches us that it isn’t ok to do something now just because we know He will forgive us!
Sometimes we like to say that we are going through a “trial of our faith” when the reality is that we are dealing with the consequences of our sin. I have heard people claim that Satan is putting them through a trial and they try to rebuke him, … but the trial they say is from Satan is really because they committed a crime, and are now facing jail time and fines. You can’t be a criminal and blame your consequence on Satan trying to “rob you of your faith.”
That situation was because of their sin, not because God is letting Satan try them like Job. God is letting them deal with the consequences of their own sins. They really need to stop claiming it is some unknown spiritual trial they are going through. Sometimes bad things happen because we are stupid and make stupid choices. What we sow we will reap.
Did God send that last big hurricane or earthquake to punish the people for their sins? We hear that a lot. Every time something major and catastrophic happens. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the gulf coast of the United States of America in 2005, almost wiped the city of New Orleans off of the map.
Having lived just 144 miles away from New Orleans at the time I can tell you that it was a bad situation for everyone. But was it the wrath of God against New Orleans for the wicked sins of the city? Many people claimed it was.
What does the Bible have to say about it, though?
2 Peter 2:6-9
6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; 7 And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: 8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) 9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:
Most people know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. The entire cities were burned to ashes with fire and brimstone. Everyone died, … except for Lot and his daughters. They survived by being led out of the city first.
15 And when the morning arose, then the angels hastened Lot, saying, Arise, take thy wife, and thy two daughters, which are here; lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city. 16 And while he lingered, the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful unto him: and they brought him forth, and set him without the city. 17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. 18 And Lot said unto them, Oh, not so, my Lord: 19 Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest some evil take me, and I die: 20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one: Oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live. 21 And he said unto him, See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken. 22 Haste thee, escape thither; for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.
Then we read about the plagues of Egypt. After that, we read about earthquakes, and so on. In fact, in the book of Genesis God sends a flood over the entire earth! YES! God DOES send natural disasters as punishment for the sins of people! But these things are NEVER the will of God.
These things are not always a direct result of the current sins of the people either. You can’t say that a hurricane is the wrath or judgment of God upon a city just because you think the city is full of sin. Guess what, ALL of our cities are. So yes, sometimes God does send these things. But no, it isn’t always the case. It would be best not to put words into the mouth of God. So if God hasn’t thundered from heaven that such a thing is judgment then do not claim that it is.
But just like the situation with David, there is good that can come from it. If the sin of Adam and Eve caused hurricanes, floods, tornados, and all kinds of things like that then why blame these things on God? It wasn’t God that caused it. God does use it, though!
Destruction is ALWAYS the result of sin! But it doesn’t mean it is from our own sins. Before Adam and Eve committed their sin we did not have death and suffering. But after they sinned the earth was cursed. Thus, we now suffer natural disasters, poisons, and all kinds of deadly things.
None of that is what God had wanted for us. It is all the result of sin. It is our consequences. Like the criminal, I mentioned earlier, when we commit a crime we have to deal with the results of it, whether we are free from the wrath of the judge or not.
When a drunk driver kills someone and gets an easy sentence from the judge they still have to live with the memory that they took someone’s life. And the consequences of sin reach farther than you may know! Most drug addicts don’t believe they are hurting anyone else. But their families and friends are suffering from their actions.
Every sin results in a chain reaction of evil. That reaction lasts forever. This is why the torment of those not found in the book of life lasts forever. Because the result of their sin continues. Adam and Eve sinned by themselves. But because of that sin, there are countless people that will choose to continue in their own sins and will end up in hell. Can you imagine the thought of knowing you had a hand in helping someone end up in hell?
Sin is far more dangerous than we want to believe! But the mercy of God and His grace can save us and them. But, it is important for us to understand that it is OUR SINS that have a lasting effect.
So remember that God doesn’t punish because He wants to. God punishes to bring something good out of the evil in the world. And, sometimes the things that happen are not a direct punishment from God, but they are still a result of sin. Whether it is our personal sin or the sin of someone thousands of years ago, even the innocent can be affected.
Sin is the reason for all suffering, not God.
August 11, 2015 at 5:14 am | | No comment