I ran across this question in some private devotional time this morning and posted it on my Facebook/Twitter feed. I got some comments, and then somebody asked me what I thought. This is what I wrote.
It’s not an easy question, as Zach said above, and the way I phrased it may have been a misnomer because I don’t think it’s an either/or, like these are the only two options. It’s a bit more complicated than that, and there are both personal and systemic issues. I found this sentence in some personal study last night.
First, I wouldn’t automatically characterize bad things that happen as “punishment”.
I believe God does not personally punish us for wrongdoing. That is what we do to ourselves. The choices we make that separate us from God do not end well, because God is not part of those choices. God is holy and has nothing to do with sin. In a similar way, sometimes the bad choices that others make effect us, and that is just what happens because we live in a world full of bad choices. Again, God does not make those happen; people do. In fact God cries with us over the pain we cause ourselves and others cause us.
At the same time, I believe that God does test us. When it comes to understanding this question, I find much wisdom in the metaphor of a parent to a child. Like a healthy parent to a child, God loves us and wants the best for us (of course God’s love is infinitely more pure than even a parent’s love, but bear with me). But if the parent gives his / her child everything the child wants, that child will remain stunted. Children need tests to grow: emotional, intellectual, spiritual. Without the trial, the child remains a child.
So situations arise in life that present us with choices. It’s not that we are punished for choosing poorly, like Holy Grail keeper who zapped the guy in the Indiana Jones movie. But if we choose wisely we find that what we get is peace, and growth – spiritually, and in ever other way too.
Knowing the difference between the effects of a bad choice and a test requires discernment and prayer.
What do you think?