Does God inflict suffering here and now on those who ‘sin’?

One of the most popular questions that I’m asked as a Christian is ‘Why does God allow suffering?’, or a question to similar effect. But what I’ve recently been exposed to is the question, ‘Does God actively punish today (physically) as a result of people sinning?’ Did you know that the Holocaust has been excused as God’s punishment on the Jews for killing Jesus? Horrific, isn’t it?

Well, this is what happens, and these are the conclusions drawn when we fail to look at the New Testament Picture of Jesus.

Truth be told, it is Mr Harold Camping, our famous End-of-the-world fanatical friend who inspired me to write this blog post. Three weeks after his predicted May 21 Judgment date, the 89-year-old Camping suffered a mild stroke and was admitted to a local hospital near his home in Alameda, California. The stroke has reportedly only affected his speech, which has become slurred as a result. For many observers, the stroke – while tragic – seemed like a divine act to punish the radio preacher for his false predictions or at the very least warn him not to do it again. It was too coincidental, many observers said on Twitter and Facebook, that it was Camping’s speech that was affected.

Was Harold Camping’s stroke punishment from God? Does a loving God even punish people if they disobey Him?

“God, certainly in the Bible, judges and punishes. Punishment is deserved for human rebellion,” said Erik Thoennes, associate professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University.

When we read the Bible, it is clear that God is active in creation. He takes sin seriously, he judges sin, he punishes individuals and people groups and nations and churches. All the time you have God revealing himself and working out His redemptive purposes for creation.

Yeah, OK. God does take sin seriously, he does judge sin, and he does punish. But, the New Testament Jesus talks about giving people the chance to turn from sin. Grace is the word, I believe. I mean, he never threw a stone at the woman who was getting around did he? And he ate with sinners… no punishment there…

For Harold Camping’s case, it’s hard to say, according to the Talbot School of Theology professor.

To speculate with some sort of certainty that we know what’s going on when someone has a stroke is not something we’re able to do because the Bible doesn’t give us the interpretation for it. That’s not to say it can’t be helpful for us to ask: Lord, are you up to something here? Lord, are you trying to teach me something? That may be the case but it’s very hard to know with certainty … Sometimes we rush to connect the dots but sometimes we can’t know why they (calamities) happened.

Really? Should we be asking if God is punishing Harold Camping for getting something wrong? Do we really believe in a God who doesn’t give second chances?

Thoennes said too often people focus only on the particulars of God’s judgment rather than understanding that universal reality of God’s judgment on a rebellious humanity. People forget that they, too, are under God’s judgment.

We’re all under God’s curse equally because of the fallen condition of all human beings. So Harold Camping’s stroke in that sense is an act of judgment in the same way my deteriorating body is an act of judgment.

I kinda get what he’s saying. He’s basically saying that we’re all fallen people, and therefore suffer just because of the very fact that we are ‘sinners’, not because God is smiting people. People who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus, who took that punishment and wrath upon himself, no longer have to bear that judgment while people who have yet to accept Christ will one day need to answer to that wrath, according to Thoennes.

Thankfully, Jesus takes on our punishment if we are benefiting from that by faith

I don’t think God is a God who loves to dish out punishment on the creation he loves. Ultimately, any sin that isn’t paid for by Jesus will, according to the Bible, be punished. But I think I may be right in saying that it is simply down to the world we live in, our broken bodies and environment which needs Jesus, that we suffer. Stuff just happens. It isn’t that God is ‘pressing’ the buttons and grimacing at the thought of us suffering in any way at all. No – Jesus came to seek and to save. He cam to bind up the broken hearted. He came to heal. He came to rescue.

I wouldn’t like to say, ultimately, whether or not God punishes sin here and now. I think there is a distinction to be made between discipline and punishment. But what I do know is that the judgement that brings about punishiment and discipline is not for us to chair.

What do you think?

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • stephen porter

    This is an interesting post Dean. I think we often loose sight of why God would punish sin in the here and now vs. just the ultimate punishment in eternity. I think the answer is in Deuteronomy 30:1-2:

    And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call [them] to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;”

    I think God lays out right and wrong pretty clearly and the blessings/cursing that come with both, but God’s judgements were, and are, intended to cause people to turn to Him. And He alone knows what each one of us needs to do that.

    I’ve started following your blog. Mine is Manifest Blog if you’re interested.

    • Hey Stephen, thanks for commenting! Great to see you on the blog 🙂

      I have also subscribed to your blog and will look forward to reading your posts! Please visit again – I love it when people engage!

      Blessings to you 🙂