Few questions in life are more common or more inflammatory than, “Is God punishing me?” It is a question asked by suffering people everywhere, Christian or non-Christian.
In the past two months, I have been preaching through the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. One of the biggest points of emphasis from these prophets is that of God’s punishment. The word translated in English as “punish” is used 33 times in Jeremiah and 14 times in Ezekiel in the English Standard Version. So much space in Jeremiah’s book as well as Ezekiel’s is devoted to why God is punishing the people, what the punishment consists of, and what the people are to do through it. What God says through his prophets in these books creates a fascinating perspective on whether God is punishing an individual. Are you ready for it? The answer I now want to give someone who asks me whether God is punishing them is:
The following are four reasons why God’s punishment on his people is actually a good thing:
When someone becomes a Christian, meaning they commit their life to Jesus Christ as the only savior for their sins, their salvation in Christ is literally kept under guard forever (1 Peter 1:3-5). Sin can never again kill their soul (Romans 6:14). Therefore, it can be easy for a Christian to forget just how deadly sin is and become complacent in their calling to be more like Christ. Much like a father to his child, God is going to remind us through temporary punishment that sin has terrible consequences. He can and will use temporary misery on us as reminder that sin is condemning the rest of the world, even if it isn’t condemning us.
At no point in the Bible, but especially in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, is God’s punishment characterized by him ceasing to work in his people’s hearts. God exiled the entire nation to Babylon in approximately 598 BC. That meant they had no temple, no king, no priestly order, and no institution forcing them to obey God’s law. However, even though they were, as an entire nation, out of their comfort zone, this 70-year period yields MAJOR prophets like Daniel, Ezekiel, Ezra, and heroes of history like Esther. There was no point of Jewish history where God interacted more with his people than through punishment.
The only reason God would be punishing you is if your life did not align with his plan. That means he has a plan! Jeremiah 29:11 told the Jews in exile that God knew the plans he had for them. He wasn’t making it up as he went along and he wasn’t giving up on them even though his punishment on them was more severe than it had ever been. No matter what they did wrong or right, God always worked to make them do his plan anyway.
The apostle Paul spoke at length about the war in a Christian’s soul between their sin and the God they love (Romans 7:15). But it is so clear throughout scripture that God disciplines the people he loves (Proverbs 3:11-12). He does this to give himself victory over their sin. Suffering for your sin is a God-given gift to discipline yourself and put your body under submission (1 Corinthians 9:27). Much like a father who puts his son in timeout when he refuses to clean up his toys, God makes us miserable for our sin, so that we lose our taste for it and pursue our taste for him. The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is not that one sins and the other doesn’t. The difference is that one is miserable for their sin and the other is liberated by it.
Two disclaimers here. First, not every time when bad things happen is God punishing you. You could suffer because you followed God's plan and that is good too. We live in a fallen world. This life is not the reward, but the next one. However, if God is punishing you, that is good too. Secondly, keep in mind a key word I say in this is his people. God’s punishment on his people is always for their good and his glory. If you have never given your life to Jesus and let him bear the punishment for your sins, your eternal guilt remains. You may not get the benefit of punishment in this life, but the evil you have done, no matter how small it is in comparison to someone else, will be payed for eternally. Don’t pay for it on your own. You can't. He can.
If you are not a Christian and you feel God is punishing you now, that is a WONDERFUL sign! God doesn’t punish people in this life if he isn’t calling them to himself. Email me questions at email@example.com. I’d love to refer you to some followers of Jesus in your area.
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