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Did My Sin Cause My Suffering?

In the midst of suffering, we often want to know the reason for our trial.

Sometimes our most painful suffering is directly caused by our sin (1 Cor. 11:30–32). But often it isn’t (John 9:3; 2 Cor. 12:8–9). So how do we know if our suffering should be met (1) with patient endurance or (2) with immediate repentance?

Two Categories

Both categories are true. God sends some suffering for us to evaluate our lives (Heb. 12:6). And God sends some suffering for us to magnify God as we endure it in faith and patience (John 9:3). So how do we know which pain has come into our lives? “God may make it plain. He may. But he may not.” Normally, these categories are “permeable” and “overlapping.” So we should respond to all our suffering with self-evaluation and patient hope.

James calls us to meet all the various trials of life with “all joy” so those trials can build “steadfastness” in us (James 1:2–4). And “he doesn’t distinguish whether they are coming in response to specific sins we’ve committed or not. What he says is that in every kind of trial—every kind—faith is being tested. And the aim in every trial is a kind of steadfastness that shows that God is trustworthy, and wise, and good, and valuable, and all-sufficient for our situation.”

Whether or not we can tell that a certain sin has caused our suffering, we respond the same way: “Let every trial have its sanctifying effect of killing sin, and furthering faith, and furthering patience, and furthering love. If the sin is known, kill it. If it is unknown, ask the Lord to protect you, to cleanse you from hidden faults, and to advance your capacities for faith and patience” (Pss. 19:12; 139:23–24).

Note that Job’s suffering began when he was a blameless man (Job 1:1). But over time, they stirred up in him “the sediment of remaining sinfulness,” which he repented of later (42:5–6). “Whether the suffering in our lives is chastisement for some specific sin, or whether the suffering is an opportunity to glorify God through faith and patience—in both cases, we’re going to discover remnants of sinfulness in our lives, which we should repent of and move beyond. Which is why I said there’s always room for self-evaluation.”

So when suffering hits, evaluate and endure. Don’t ignore it or fear it as a sign of God’s condemnation—both those responses are wrong (Rom. 8:16–17).

Whether or not we can tell that a certain sin has caused our suffering, we respond the same way. When suffering hits, evaluate and endure.

In reckoning with the pain inflicted on Job’s life, we must be aware of his sin. And our own. All of us are worthy of God’s judgment as “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). So anything and everything we are given that’s not judgment is “undeserved.” Every breath we take, any moment we don’t suffer—it’s all “undeserved” grace to sinners.

Aware of this, we can be assured that “no injustice from God is ever done to any human. On the earth, everyone is treated by God better than we deserve—everyone.” When it comes to the justice of the global flood, “until we feel the depth and horror of sin like this, much of the Bible will simply make no sense to us at all.” Global tragedies remind us of the horror of sin against God.

Redemption Matters

Redemption doesn’t end our suffering in this life. Christians suffer (1 Thess. 3:3; 2 Thess. 1:5). But we suffer in the comfort that our pains are “in the hands of our all-wise, all-powerful, all-good Father.” Not in the hands of Satan, fate, or a god who’s self-amused by our pain. Every sting in life is appointed and managed by a loving Father toward our final good (Rom. 8:28). So we can draw comfort from the fact that (1) God appoints our pain, (2) for our ultimate good, (3) to advance his wise purposes. Through it all, he will hold us fast.

On this topic, redemption matters. Never confuse judgment and discipline. Between them is “an infinite difference.” God judges his enemies—the “misery” he brings on those without “any purifying or restoring or rehabilitating purposes, but solely to express his holy justice, his retribution,” not restitution (Rev. 16:5–6). This is made especially clear in his coming eternal judgment (19:1–3).

But God disciplines his children—a stark contrast. Discipline is “not retribution” for God’s enemies; it’s reserved for the sons “he loves and means to improve, even though it involves God’s displeasure,” all to our final good, “that we may share God’s holiness as loved children” (see Heb. 12:5–11).

Purifying Discipline

The sobering truth is that “many of the painful things in the Christian’s life are owing to our own sins: some that we committed before we were Christians, and some that we have committed since we have been Christians.” Our sin can even warrant physical death (1 Cor. 11:30).

Every sting in life is appointed and managed by a loving Father toward our final good.

In such extreme situations, this discipline prevents something worse (vv. 31–32). It’s “a stunning example of God’s disciplinary judgment that goes so far as to bring about the death of his child. And that death is the disciplinary effect of sin in the child’s life because it keeps him from going to hell.”

So “there is an infinite and precious difference between God’s retributive justice in punishment and God’s purifying discipline in our pain. And that difference does not lie in the origin—the human origin—of the pain, whether good or evil. It lies in the purpose and the design of God in our suffering.”


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