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Does God Make Us Suffer?

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.

Focus

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.

Devotion

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.

Reflect

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?

Act

Pray for people in our world who are suffering today, with as much specificity as you can muster.

Pray

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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2 thoughts on “Does God Make Us Suffer?

  1. DiAnne says:

    Right off the bat, in Isaiah 45, we learn that God brings blessings and also calamity. He’s sovereign over everything. We learn in Job no one is righteous and that God brought judgment not as divine judgment on sin but to test Job.

    “So that people may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no one else, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating disaster; I am the Lord who does all these things.”
    Isaiah 45:6-7

    We don’t understand all the reasons God allows calamity and we do know without His discipline no one will see the Lord.

    Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. For the moment, all discipline seems not to be pleasant, but painful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterward it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
    Hebrews 12:9-11

    So there are some reasons and yes, as a spiritual priesthood and Jealous God we will encounter times of trials to test us and grow us up to respect God’s holiness.

    We live in a culture that wants to call evil good and good evil.

    When the Israelites turned to other Gods they were judged as God promised they would be. Prophet after prophet warned them and eventually Jerusalem was burned and they were carried away into captivity.

    There is a direct correlation between our letting worldly values direct our thinking rather than God’s word regarding how we should live as a holy called-out people.

    Ok. Off my soapbox!

    • Mark Roberts says:

      Thanks, DiAnne, for your thoughtful comment. I love it when people use this place to work through matters of faith and life.

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