March 29, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Lamentations 1:5 (NRSV)
Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,
because the LORD has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.
Some Christians are quick to pronounce God’s judgment on victims of suffering. While it is true, according to Lamentations, that God sometimes causes people to suffer as an exercise of divine discipline, we would do well not to throw around our opinions about when this is happening to others. Moreover, when we are going through hard times, Lamentations encourages us to tell God all about it without holding back. Though God’s ways are often hard to understand, God’s love for us is utterly reliable.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Lamentations in Lent.
Every now and then, I find myself deeply unsettled and offended by the pronouncements of judgment offered by certain public Christian figures. Most often, this happens in the wake of some terrible natural disaster. Even before the hurricane flooding has fully subsided or the earthquake aftershocks have ceased, we’ll start hearing self-righteous explanations that point to God’s judgment. Inevitably, I’ll feel embarrassed to be associated with the proud pundits who bear the name of Christ.
Now here’s the shocker. We see something very much like this in Lamentations. Consider this verse: “[Judah’s] foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe” (1:5, emphasis added). Ouch! What are we supposed to do with this sort of claim when it’s right there in Scripture? Does this mean that those who utter such pronouncements of judgment today are standing on solid theological ground?
The translation of 1:5 is sound. The crucial phrase could be translated literally as, “The Lord afflicted her on account of her many transgressions.” The author of Lamentations clearly states that God caused Israel’s grief. Therefore, since this statement appears in Scripture, I accept it as true, no matter how I might at first feel about it. This text, among many others in the Bible, asserts that God sometimes causes suffering as a way of disciplining God’s own people.
Yet, this does not permit us to start explaining natural disasters and other tragedies as acts of divine judgment. For one thing, God clearly and unambiguously warned Judah in advance of what would happen if they rejected God and God’s justice, turning to other gods (see, for example, Deuteronomy 28). Even apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the author of Lamentations could have known from Scripture exactly why Judah was suffering. Moreover, God had repeatedly sent prophets to warn the people and to urge them to be faithful. When their sin prevailed, God followed through on what had been promised centuries earlier.
So, those who claim to explain tragedies as acts of divine judgment are treading on perilously thin theological ice. They run the risk of attributing to God that which God has not done, thus blaspheming the Lord while turning many away from God. Moreover, they easily obscure the good news of God’s grace and love.
Thus, I would strongly urge Christians, including me, to judiciously avoid making pronouncements of divine judgment upon others when bad things happen to them. Yet, if we’re going to be people shaped by Scripture, we need to be open to the possibility that God will use suffering to guide, mature, and shape us. Suffering often helps us grow more than we do when life is easy. I’ll say more about this tomorrow.
In the meanwhile, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
How do you react when you hear Christians explaining natural disasters as acts of divine judgment?
Do you think God ever uses suffering to discipline us? Why or why not?
Can you think of a time when God used suffering in your life to help you grow? If so, what happened?
Pray for people in our world who are suffering today, with as much specificity as you can muster.
Gracious God, there are and will always be things about you I don’t understand, perhaps even things I don’t especially like. I must admit that I struggle with the idea that you caused the suffering of Judah. I don’t like thinking about this. Yet, I am challenged by your Word to see you as you have revealed yourself. Yes, you are a God of love. You are Love, indeed. Yet you are also a God of justice, a God whose word is trustworthy, a God who cannot tolerate sin.
You are also a God of amazing grace. How I thank you that you have carried our sickness and sorrows, taking them upon yourself in Christ. How grateful I am that you suffered in Christ for the sins of the world, including me.
Help me, dear Lord, to grow into a deeper knowledge of who you are, into a deeper experience of you, and into a deeper relationship with you. I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: If I’m Suffering, Is God Punishing Me?
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.