Is Suffering the Result of God Punishing Sin?

by Pastor Kevin Sadler

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“And as Jesus passed by, He saw a man which was blind from his birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3).

Somewhere in Jerusalem, the Lord and His disciples encountered a man born without sight. The man had been blind his whole life. He couldn’t see Christ; he’d never seen anything, ever. But the Lord saw the man. The disciples saw him also, but they did not see him as one needing mercy, but rather as a subject of a theological question to pose to the Lord.

They asked, “Was the blindness a result of the man’s sin or his parents’ sin?” The disciples saw the man’s affliction as God’s punishment of someone’s sin, either his own or that of his parents.

Their question is one that is still asked today. I recently heard a story of a young woman asking a pastor why her father was sick with a terminal illness. The pastor told her that it was the result of God punishing some sin in her life or her family’s life and that she and her family needed to repent and seek the Lord.

In a sin-cursed world, suffering is part of living (Rom. 8:18-23), and all physical problems are the result of the fall when sin entered the world through Adam (Rom. 5:12). In that sense, sin does cause suffering and death. Also, sometimes sinful behavior directly brings about unwanted consequences and suffering. God often allows our actions and decisions to produce the naturally occurring negative consequences, and we reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7).

However, the disciples’ question was whether any personal sin by this man or his parents had caused his blindness by way of God’s punishment on him. This is the line of thinking that Job’s friends had. Job hadn’t done anything wrong, but he suffered greatly. And Job’s friends kept telling him that his suffering was because of some sin in his life and that he needed to ’fess up and admit it (Job 4:7-11; 11:4-6,14; 22:5).

The answer Christ gave His disciples was “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents.” The Lord’s response was that no sin committed by the man or his parents was the cause of his blindness. With one simple statement, He completely obliterated the whole idea that suffering is a direct result of God punishing people because of sin in their lives.

Christ gave no judgment as to anyone’s sin causing the man to be born blind; He simply said that the man’s blindness provided an opportunity to manifest the works of God. And Christ had come to reveal the glory and power of those works. Christ said the man was blind so that they could come to this moment and the works of God could be put on display and God could be glorified through him. The disciples asked why. The Lord was interested in what: what could be done to help the man in his great need? And then the Lord proceeded to heal the man’s blindness (John 9:6-7).

We learn from this passage that we shouldn’t suppose that anyone’s suffering is linked to God’s punishment for doing something wrong. Rather than looking for the reason for one’s suffering, we should just trust the Lord, knowing that

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).

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