Another Hard Question…

Like I said last time… I am going to write about a few of the common questions I get asked, as a pastor, because maybe you have wondered about them as well… or maybe you will want to correct me on how wrong I am in my answers  So here is the SECOND of – I don’t know how many…

Is God Punishing Me? I get asked this quite often actually. As you can imagine – it’s never a question anyone asks when things are going along swimmingly. It’s always in the midst of a crisis… whether it’s with their health, or marriage, or finances, or trouble with kids, or legal issues, or… man the list is pretty long…

Well the short answer is… Actually there isn’t a short answer to this.

For the most part – we associate the word punishment with penalty… In other words… we do something wrong, something bad will happen to us in return… it’s retribution, retaliation… doled out on us by someone in authority. When you are a kid – you are punished for breaking a rule… Stay out past curfew as a teenager and you are grounded by your parents – loss of freedom … As an adult – for example, you make a stupid decision and drive somewhere after some drinks and you are arrested by the police and you are put in jail – loss of freedom… Our whole lives are a running list of how we equate things to other things… It’s how we are trained and how we look at everything in our lives… Our parents authority, equates to police authority, equates to God’s authority. A bad action leads to a punishment… But as it relates to God – it’s not nearly that simple. When it comes to God, a better word than punishment is discipline – and honestly that is a better description of us with our kids. (Read Hebrews 12:7-13)

Yes, discipline and punishment as words are used interchangeably sometimes… but there is a difference in the depth of each word… Punishment is always just that… a strong retribution to balance the scales for what you did. Discipline goes deeper… discipline is an effort to correct and train so that we are taught how to behave differently in the future… I know it seems a minute difference but the difference is there. I think of a death row inmate who is being strapped to the table where he will be given a lethal dose of meds to end his life… He is not being disciplined because of course there will be no future acts that need correction. It is purely punishment he receives for his actions to “balance the scales of justice.”

God desires for us to walk in the footsteps of His Son. He has set a path for us to follow that leads to Him and I believe that He is grieved every time we step off of that path… and most of us, in some way or another whether big or small, probably step off of that pat every single day. If “sin is sin” and we were to be punished every time we stepped off the path… then we would spend every waking hour experiencing God’s punishment. Life would be brutal, always. But for some reason, some do believe that the bad things that happen to them are some sort of punishment from God…

Here is an example from a few years ago that I dealt with… A young Christian man began to experiment with drugs, because he buckled to peer pressure… at first, it was just to fit in… then it quickly became a desire… then a need… then a full blown addiction. The full blown addiction lead to worse and worse choices – from lying, to misdemeanor theft, to grand theft, to imprisonment. One of his parents met with me and they wanted to know… “Why? Why is God allowing this to happen to my son? His family needs him… His kids especially need him… Why, God?!? Why?? What have we done to deserve this?!? It’s because I…” and then they listed everything wrong they had ever done! As if God took their son from them because of sins they had committed – some years earlier! You immediately probably see that example and say – well that’s ridiculous – of course his imprisonment and loss of freedom and loss of his family is punishment for HIS crime, not theirs… He made his choices – and now he has to pay. That’s not God’s punishment on the parent or that son… And you are right. But we don’t always apply the same reasoning when the shoe is on our foot. The reality is, that it applies to any other example we can come up with – big or small. Our OWN choices lead to our OWN consequences and I think they break God’s heart when they happen… but He gave us free will all the way around… for the good, the bad and the ugly.

The hardest time to answer this question is when someone is dealing with their health or the health of a loved one – especially a spouse or a child. I will tell you unequivocally that health issues are NEVER punishment from God. Some people may have made choices that lead to consequences in their health – i.e smoking/lung cancer, sex/std’s, alcoholism/sclerosis of the liver, just to name a few – but God is never going to “take” the life of your loved one as punishment for something you have done. If anyone ever hints at that – walk away from them quickly and never look back. The reality is that we live in a world full of sickness and disease. It was not the original design of our Creator, but it is where we live. That means that sickness and disease are part of what we have to face – regardless of the life we live – for God or otherwise. Need proof? Statistics for the occurrence of incurable cancer is exactly the same in Christians as non-Christians.

And there are scenarios that deal with neither choices we have made nor our health… they are just things that happen. Someone loses their job – or can’t find a job – you know what? It is possible that it is just due to a bad economy and not because you smoked pot one time in college. Or you get in a car accident and the person that hits you doesn’t have insurance – guess what? It is possible that you were just at the wrong spot at the wrong time and if it hadn’t been you – it would have been someone else. And it’s not because you used God’s name in vain at a basketball game. It’s important to remember that we as Christ Followers do not subscribe to the idea of KARMA!

Now, our sinful acts mean we will face consequences for our actions… you can call that discipline or cause and effect or whatever you want – but don’t call it karma and don’t call it punishment… Sin was punished 2,000 years ago on a cross of torture and the punishment was taken by the only One that didn’t deserve it – but He chose it so that we would never have to face it… And thank goodness karma isn’t the rule – because we would all certainly be screwed.

Jason Rehmel is the Lead Pastor at Eastside Christian Church on the east side of Cincinnati. If you are someone who has had a terrible experience(s) at a church or churches – stop by some weekend and give it one more shot with Eastside. Whether you have felt judged, or dismissed, or unwanted – wherever it has been – Eastside is different.

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