“Is God punishing me? I think he is!” An exasperated woman flung that statement out at a Bible study I attended years ago. Before you could say “poor darlin’,” most of the class had the woman enveloped in a group hug, assuring her that God would do no such thing. He isn’t in the business of making His children miserable, they claimed. Ever.
I didn’t think that was quite right based on an unforgettable woodshed experience of my own with God. But I knew my experience wasn’t authoritative, and I couldn’t quote my position chapter and verse. Besides, all of the women were older than I and very confident in their assertions.
It’s a great risk to challenge such a group when you don’t have it all nailed down. And I wondered if the woman who was the focus of attention think I was cruel for objecting to her comforters. So I kept quiet.
Years later, I still think about that scene and my hesitation to speak up. And I know there are women who still wonder if God is punishing them. Maybe you’re one of them.
What Does The Bible Say?
The best place to find the answer to our question is from God, Himself. This is what He says on the subject in Scripture:
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. (Hebrews 12:5b-8)
Anyone trying to market a soft religion with a casual deity would leave this passage out. It’s unambiguous. God disciplines His children. He also chastises. Chastisement doesn’t mean God wags His finger at you when you willfully sin. It means (in the original Greek) He flogs you; beats you bloody. The point being: it’s dreadfully painful. And, hang on, the news gets worse. There’s no escaping God’s discipline. Because if you’re left without such treatment, the passage says you have much bigger problems than you thought. You’re not His.
Theologically speaking, punishment and discipline are not the same things. Punishment is a punitive measure for those who remain under God’s wrath. Discipline is a process intended to revive a believer. It’s a very important distinction. But it’s fair to say God’s discipline may feel indistinguishable from brutal punishment to the one undergoing it. It hurts. His intention is to root out our sin and make us holy, just as some medical treatments are dreadful to endure though meant to root out disease and restore physical health. God knows how much “medicine” we need.
How To Respond To The Question Is God Punishing Me?
The assurance of chastisement doesn’t mean we can say with certainty what’s happening, at any given time, in the life of another. We need to tenderly ask the question: Is there anything in your life God should punish you for? There just might be.
When a sister expresses misery and points her finger at God, we don’t help her by patting her back and dismissing her spiritual instincts. That response also defames God as a casual bystander to her pain instead of competent Father who is prescribing and administering it. What’s called for is a time of self-examination. It’s time to challenge her to measure her life against God’s revealed will and word.
Maybe, like Job, she knows of no area of obvious rebellion. God uses also uses suffering for our general sanctification. The cause of our pain isn’t always sin. In that case, all she need do is plead for grace to submit to the Father’s providence and for strength to persevere. God is still in control and acting purposefully. But if there is sin she can identify as a cause for discipline, she must add repentance to her prayer for grace and strength.
God’s discipline is purposeful. He’s asked us to take it seriously and be attentive. We should be asking ourselves: Is God punishing me? Because if we derail self-examination with hasty comfort, we delay the sweet benefit on the other side of it.If we derail self-examination with hasty comfort, we delay the sweet benefit on the other side of it. Click To Tweet
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
Discipline produces sanctification. Mature believing women must encourage one another to reflect and repent if we are to be refined. We must offer one another truthful counsel and compassion for brokenness. Because one day, we all must be on the receiving end of discipline.