Summary: How many times do you question whether God causes suffering as a judgment? There are really four causes for suffering. Find out how God uses them for good.
Luke 13:1-5 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." ESV
What you have here are both Jewish and Greek ideas of individual punishment for individual sin. If you suffer it’s because you deserved it.
The Jews thought that the worse your sin, the worse awful thing would happen to you. So to have Jewish blood mingled with pagan sacrifices would have been horrible.
In the Greek mind there was such as thing called Justice with a capital "J" that would not let you escape punishment if you did evil. So when a tragedy befell you, then you must have done something wrong to deserve it.
Does God use suffering as judgment? A lot of people think so. Commentators and ministers ponder if some of the recent natural disasters from Hurricane Katrina to the South Asia tsunami were God’s judgment on sinful man. For sure God used suffering as judgment in the Old Testament. God often used evil to judge evil. And God will use suffering to judge the earth during the final 7 years of earth’s history before the return of Christ. But I think that judgment is more of an attempted wake up call and a cleansing of the earth to prepare for Christ’s return.
But what about now? When someone suffers is it because God is actively judging them? I don’t think so. We don’t really see that anywhere in the pre-Tribulation times. I know that God judged Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, and that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul hints that some have actually gotten sick or died around for completely misusing the Lord’s body and blood.
But I just don’t see that active judgment during the church age. We are in a special window where the door is open wide for people to experience God’s grace through Jesus. I think suffering takes on a different tone during this time and God uses it differently.
So why do we suffer, and why does tragedy befall us? There are three reasons:
a. Because of the fall
b. Because of the enemy
c. Because of our actions
And I’ll mention a fourth - because God wants to perfect us.
1. The Fall
Turn to Genesis 3. God put man in charge of an idyllic place called Eden. They could do anything they wanted and all their needs would be provided for. They chose to do the one thing God said not to do, which was to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In doing so they made themselves more important than God, rebelled against Him, and allied themselves with the serpent: Lucifer.
So God sent them out of the Garden of Eden. And when they went out God made some pronouncements on their environment.
- Pain in childrearing. Not just childbirth but raising children would be devastatingly difficult (borne out in Cain and Abel).
- Competition and strife between men and women
- Fruitlessness in labor
This is known as "The Fall." Even as God cursed Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, He also cursed the very creation that He had said was "very good."
The Apostle Paul talks about it in Romans 8:19-23
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation , but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. ESV
The creation was never meant to fall apart. But today we see the results of the Fall all around us. We have genetic breakdown that causes disease, we have natural disasters, we have sting rays that kill people, and competition in the animal kingdom, competition in the human kingdom, and on and on.
Sometimes suffering happens to us as kind of an echo of that curse that God proclaimed so long ago. It doesn’t mean we do or don’t deserve it, it just happens.