A friend of mine came to me a few months ago and asked me to pray for her toddler son who was recently diagnosed with a devastating illness. “I think God hates me. I feel like I’m being punished or cursed. I don’t understand.”
She’s not alone.
“Is God punishing me? Is this a curse from God?” are questions one often asks themselves when facing a hard situation. Since 2017 I’ve dealt with one crisis after another. I’ve had people tell me that my life should be made into a movie because of all I’ve been through (I’m not sure I want to see that movie). As I write this I’m in another season of crisis. I’m struggling with my bipolar disorder, I’m in conflict with someone I love, and I’m being sued for speaking up for people who are being hurt. Wondering if I’m cursed might be a natural response, but knowing the truth in God’s word, I know this is not the case.
Yes, when we sin, we face consequences. These consequences will be in correlation to that sin. In my friend’s situation, I confidently told her, “No, God is not punishing you. This is not his curse on you.”
How do I know? Well, we’re going to look at the history of God’s people to arrive at that answer.
The Creation and the Fall
Adam and Eve were in perfect union with God living in his beautiful creation. There were no illnesses. No natural disasters. No brokenness. Their relationship with each other was perfect. No lying, cheating, or fighting. God’s love for his children had no limits. Adam and Eve’s relationship with each other and with God was faultless.
Then they sinned. They disobeyed God, ate the fruit he clearly told them not to eat, and changed the world forever. Now there would be illness and death, disasters, corrupt relationships and every horror you could imagine.
The consequence was dire. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. They would toil in their work and childbirth would seem unbearable. Worst of all, Adam and Eve, and every person who ever lived, would be cut off from God. The perfect union between man and God was destroyed. But not forever. God’s love for his creation stayed the same even though their relationship with him changed.
God Punishes His Chosen People
The Old Testament contains a history of God’s creation turning their back to him. It’s a history of God correcting his people, then turning back to him, only to have them turn away again. Because of his great love for his people he didn’t give up. He kept turning their hearts back. And turning them back. And turning them back.
Part of God’s turning his people back to him was to curse them for their sin. In Genesis 6 we see God’s great disappointment in his creation.
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”Genesis 6:5-7 (ESV)
But God didn’t wipe out all men. Genesis 6:8 continues, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” Man faced the consequences of their sin, but through Noah he would give man another chance.
Not long after the population began to grow again, God’s people turned away yet again. In Genesis 11 we see Noah’s great grandson, Nimrod, take his tribe to the east where they would build a name for themselves through a tower that reached high into the heavens. God was not pleased.
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.Genesis 11:6-8 (ESV)
Now God’s people were scattered and they all spoke a different language, so they couldn’t communicate with one another. A people united would now turn against each other.
Soon after, God’s plan for his people continued through Abraham, chosen to lead his people to a land promised by God. Canaan was inhabited by a people who were turned away from God. For 400 years God gave the people time to repent, but they did not. Finally God made way for the Israelites to reach their land to enact judgment on the Canaanites. When they arrived at Canaan, spies staked it out for forty days and found the land was lush and fruitful but was surrounded by tribes of strong men. They mourned, grumbled and complained. Therefore, God told them they would all die before they could enter the promised land.
But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I, the Lord, have spoken. Surely this will I do to all this wicked congregation who are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.”Numbers 14:32-35 (ESV)
Even in this land, “flowing with milk and honey,” God’s people continued to turn away from him. They continued to break his laws. His efforts were fruitless as he knew they would be. For hundreds of years more, they were in bondage to their sin waiting for their savior. From the time Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, to the time Jesus died on the cross, over 1500 years passed.
God Blesses His Chosen People
While the Old Testament tells the story of God’s people turning from him, it also shows God blessing those whose hearts look toward him. There are many examples, but I will share a few.
Noah and his family were saved from the flood.
Abraham and Sarah, through their son Isaac, began the lineage through which Christ would come. Abraham’s faith is remembered to this day.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.Hebrews 11:8-10 (ESV)
Moses was given leadership over the Israelites as they looked for the promised land. He was entrusted with God’s law.
David, a poor shepherd boy, became king of Israel. Jesus is called, “Son of David.”
Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, and so many other women, because of their faith, played a key role in Jesus’s lineage.
Without these faithful people, our lives would be hopeless.
Is God Punishing Me?
Throughout the Old Testament we see God enacting his wrath upon his people when they turn away from him. This leads us to, again, ask the question, “Is God punishing me? Is this God’s curse on me?”
God’s curse on man is eternal punishment for turning away from him; being unrepentant in one’s sin. We also experience temporal punishment in direct correlation for our sin.
If we cheat on our spouse, they will likely leave us. If we’re in a toxic relationship, that toxicity will spread to other relationships. If we rob a bank, we’ll end up in jail. At the very least, the weight of our sin will destroy any chance of peace in our lives.
If we repent for our sins, we escape God’s eternal curse.
No one else will directly take on our punishment. God is not going to punish someone’s child for their parent’s sin by giving them a genetic disorder. We do suffer from the sins of those around us but we don’t take on the brunt of their punishment. Additionally, not every hard thing in life is a result of sin. An illness, in most cases, is not punishment for sin. I did not nearly die after my son was born because of some sin I committed. I just got sick. Illness and death are a part of the brokenness of our world.
Sometimes we face a trial for doing the right thing. I am not getting sued because I sinned. I spoke up for people being hurt by a man. The man isn’t happy about what I said, so he’s suing me.
God Forgives His Children
Amidst the story of the struggle between following God and turning away from him, the Old Testament is filled with prophecies of a Savior who will break the chains of sin. The curse is eternal separation from God. He won’t tolerate our sin. He comes down to us in the form of a man to repair that relationship. God hates sin and his eternal plan is to do away with it; to damn the unrepentant and take those who turn back to him into his heavenly kingdom.
The Problem of Pain
So, if God’s not punishing me and I’ve accepted him as my Savior, then why does it still hurt? Why is this happening to me?
This is an age-old question. Why do bad things happen to good people? Until Christ returns we will never be able to answer it completely. Until Christ comes again, there will still be sin.
Just as God curses those who turn away from him and blesses those who are faithful to him, he also allows calamity to come to the faithful. All of Jesus’ disciples, save John, were martyrs for him. The apostle Paul was imprisoned three times for his zeal in sharing the gospel. Paul also had a “thorn in his flesh” despite begging God to take it from him. Sometimes bad things happen to those who are doing good because we live in a sinful broken world.
If you look back through my blog posts, you will see that I’ve experienced my fair share of pain. My journey through pain is ongoing and, after much struggle, I’ve accepted this journey. I’ve accepted a life of crying out,“Why God?” and resting in the assurance that pain is temporary but life in Christ is eternal. I have found purpose in my pain; to come alongside other broken people and point them to Christ.
I don’t know God’s answer to your, “Why God?” moments, but it’s better to cry out, “Why God?” then “Forget you God!” Keep asking why. He will answer you. He will comfort you. Through Christ, he will give you strength to put one foot in front of the other day after day.