Which of you will listen to this or pay close attention in time to come? Who handed Jacob over to become loot, and Israel to the plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned? For they would not follow his ways; they did not obey his law. So he poured out on them his burning anger, the violence of war. It enveloped them in flames, yet they did not understand; it consumed them, but they did not take it to heart.
Christians today often shy away from pointing to difficult circumstances or situations in our lives and considering them to be God's punishment. I think this is partly because we don't like to think of God punishing us. "Sure we find passages like the one above in the Old Testament" we think, "but not in the New Testament." Actually, the New Testament has some pretty specific examples of God punishing His children for their sin. (See for example the story of Ananias and Sapphira.) We don't much like this though. We prefer to think of God as loving Father more than righteous judge. But the truth is, when God punishes us, He acts as both our Father and Judge. Let me explain...
In the above passage, Isaiah prophesies over the people of Judah who will one day be taken into Babylonian captivity. The Lord, speaking through Isaiah, makes it perfectly clear that He will be responsible for their exile. He will send them into captivity as a punishment because of their continued disobedience. But the passage also makes clear that God's punishment is an opportunity for correction. God wants them to "listen" and "pay close attention." He wants them to "take it to heart" so that they will change their ways and live in accordance with His commands. We must always consider God's discipline in our lives as Proverbs 3:11-12 would have us. "My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son He delights in." God punishes us as a Father so that we may avoid later judgment.
When we refuse to even consider that the difficult circumstances and situations in our life may be the Lord's discipline, then we miss out on important warnings from our Heavenly Father. Now, I don't advocate constantly chalking up your difficulties as an assault from the Lord, but it does make good Christian sense to stop and ask yourself a few questions when you encounter a season of uncommon difficulty.
- Is there persistent sin in my life that God may be disciplining me for?
- Is the difficulty I am experiencing tied to or the result of sin in my life?
- Is this simply normal suffering as a result of the fallen nature of this world? We all suffer. Sometimes we suffer greatly at no fault of our own. The fact that we are suffering does not necessarily mean we are being punished.
- Could this be an attack of the devil? Am I following the Lord closely enough to warrant an attack from the Devil?
Don't be quick to rush to judgment when it comes to difficulty in your life. Suffering is common to all mankind. Only through prayer and self-examination can you determine if your difficult circumstances are really the Lord's correction, but I urge you not to skip over considering this possibility. Ignoring the Lord's discipline comes at a very high cost.
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