Was God Punishing Me or Just Testing My Faith?
Mars Hill Church answer to the question
I stole the title of this piece from an article that I just finished reading. You can read it here.
That article spoke to me, because I have been struggling with this same question recently. Often times, I look at my current situation and say, "Oh, this is so bad! I don't have a job. I don't have any money. I need this and this and this, and I have no way to get it. I wish I had this skill or that one. Why is my life so bad? Does God hate me? What is God's plan for me? Will I ever just be happy?" These thoughts can overtake us when we are faced with a bad situation. It is easy to blame God when we feel like our situation is too big for us to handle.
I personally, have been thinking about God's role in my life. I have tried bargaining with God. I ask "God, just tell me what you want me to do. Anything you ask, I'll do it. Just make everything alright again." But I have learned that God doesn't take bribery too well.
I have wondered, "Is God punishing me?" I think of every bad thing I could possibly have done. I haven't prayed enough. I have been greedy. I have been lustful. I have been gluttonous. I have put so many things before God. I think, "He MUST be punishing me. I am a HORRIBLE person!" But God has already acknowledged that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), but he gives us solace in the fact that we are "justified freely by his grace in the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:24) So, beating yourself up is a futile effort. It will not bring you any closer to God if you wallow in self pity over what you have done.
Many people believe that God doesn't punish his children. After all, if God is love, wouldn't he love us whether we do good or do "bad"? If God is omnipotent, didn't God know that we were going to act improperly? If this is so, then how could he punish us for something he created...something he set in motion? If God doesn't make mistakes, then why should I, his creation, be corrected for a mistake that I made as a result of His will (which is said to be perfect)?
My answer: I don't know. I am not God. But what I do know, is that I don't know. I don't know why I am here on this planet. I don't know why bad things happen to good people. Heck, I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow! In the grand scheme of things, I am powerless to my fate, but it does give me comfort to know that there is a great, big, loving God that is overseeing all of this, and He will not let me fall. He will not let a head on my head be harmed outside of His perfect will, and everything will always be alright. The sun will always shine again tomorrow, because he says so.
So, let's answer the other part of that question. Is God just testing my faith?
Would God really put His children to the test like that? We are reminded of the story of Job. He was faithful to God. He seemed to be doing everything right, and was richly blessed (whether he was blessed because he was doing everything right, or just because that was his portion is up for debate another time). Then God allowed Satan to take it all away. Why? According to the book of Job, the Devil and God had a wager to see if Job, God's most faithful servant, would still remain loyal to God if he lost all his blessings. So, Job lost his riches, his children died, his wife left him, his friends left him, he got seriously sick and looked a hot mess! But he still praised God, and in the end, God blessed me more than he was blessed before.
When bad things happen, we often refer to the book of Job with hope in our hearts that God is just testing us, and that one day, we will be blessed abundantly for our patience and loyalty to God. But is that how we should look at it? Should we look at God as a mad scientist who wants to see how long we can hold on before we crack and give up, and whoever holds out the longest wins? My opinion is that, yes, we should remain faithful to God no matter what life brings to us, but I choose not to believe that God would put me to the test. Especially knowing already whether or not I am going to pass or fail. I'm not saying that we should do whatever we want to do with the impression that God already knows what's going to happen and you are only sinning, because it is God's will and you have no control over it. Yes, God made us imperfect, but he loves us that way. He believes that our imperfections make us beautiful and when we strive for perfection we are made glorious in his eyes.
Why don't we look at it this way. Bad things aren't happening to us. Things are just happening. It is up to us to decide how we choose to deal with it. We can feel jealous that something that seems to be better is happening to somebody else, or we can work to change our situation. We can wallow in self pity, or we can be joyful that we are alive and have the opportunity to make a difference. We can feel angry at God for what we have lost, or we can thank God for what we have.
Like I said before, I don't know the mind of God. I don't know what's going to happen to me 50 years from now, 10 years from now, a year from now or even tomorrow. All I know is that I am sitting here right now typing this article, and I thank God that he has blessed me with this computer, the internet and the ability to read and write. I don't have everything in life that I want to have, but I am still richly blessed and I don't think that the absence of my deepest desires is a punishment for me or a test, I think it is just a fact. Maybe I will have those things one day. Maybe I will never have them, but as long as I am happy where I am and with what I have today, I have all that I need.
My favorite prayer that demonstrates wholy surrendering to the will of God goes like this:
"Lord, I do not know what I ought to ask of you. You only know what we need. You love me better than I know how to love myself. Father, give to Your child that for which he himself does not know what to ask. I dare not ask either for crosses or consolations. I simply present myself before You. I open my heart to You. See and do according to your tender mercies. Smite or heal. Depress me or raise me up. I adore all of Your purposes without knowing them. I am silent. I offer myself in sacrifice. I yield myself to You. I would have no other desire than to accomplish Your will. Teach me to pray. Pray Yourself in me." -Fenelon
I will close this article by posing to my readers the questions asked at the end of the blog entry that inspired this: Do you think God punishes people for their wrongdoings or not placing Him first in their lives? Did you ever feel like God was punishing you?