Devotions for Times of Crisis ~ Day 3: Why is God Punishing Me?
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love…He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:8,10)
The nearly constant companion of those in the early stages of a crisis is the lingering sense that they are being punished by God. They may ask the question directly, “Why is God punishing me?” though often the question is worded “What have I done to deserve this?” They have a real and crushing sense that God is punishing them. So they immediately start pouring over their lives to see if there is some secret sin, or some weakness of character, that lays at the bottom of the punishment they’re now receiving: “Was I inconsiderate to someone that was sick, so that the Lord is giving me a taste of what that’s like to teach me a lesson?” Or, “Was I not a good enough steward with my money so that the Lord has taken away my job in order to punish me for my stinginess?” Or “Is my child threatened with serious sickness because I didn’t pay enough attention to him or love her enough? Is God threatening to take her away to teach me to cherish him?” The list could go on and on and on and on.
It’s sad that we have such thoughts, for they betray a fundamental distrust of God’s love and a fundamental skepticism of His Goodness. But we can’t seem to help it, or to keep the thoughts from coming. They just happen. They happen because we have a “cause-and-effect” mentality hardwired into our brains. For every effect we seek a cause. When bad things happen to us in life we immediately start searching for a cause, and if we can’t find a cause in the environment around us, then we start to search for one inside of us, or in our relationship with God. So we naturally think, “I must have done something to bring this on. God is punishing me for something.”
In the face of these feelings Christians have a strong defense if they will cling to God’s Word as Truth. God cannot lie, and what He tells us in His Word over and over and over again is that God “does not treat us as our sins deserve, or repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).
We cannot know why God allows certain things to come into our lives, but we do know at least two things: One, that God does not bring these things into our lives; He is not the source of evil in our lives. The source of evil in our lives is sin. Two, that our crisis is NOT a punishment from God. God is certainly angry over our sins, but ALL of His anger over our sin was taken out on Jesus. Not one drop, not one tittle of His anger over our sin is left to be dropped on us. 100% of God’s anger over our sin was taken out on Jesus. It was completely spent on Jesus; not 99.9%, but 100%. So there is no anger left in God that would cause him to punish us by means of a crisis.
Jesus tells us that we should expect only good things from God now, never bad things. So whatever our crisis is, it is not a punishment from God. It is the effect of sin in this world. It is the random happening of evil in this world, that may not carry any existential meaning at all (a hard thought to accept, granted). It is an attack by the Devil. It could be any of these things, but one thing it will never be is a punishment from God.
God may use the evil that comes into our lives to discipline us, but He does not bring them into our lives in order to do so, nor does He seek to punish us through them. The punishment for your sin was carried by Jesus on His cross. As Isaiah reminds us, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Rest certain in the knowledge that your crisis is not a punishment, that there is no secret or hidden fault in you, that God is faithful, good, and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love; that He does not treat you as your sins deserve but shows compassion to those who love and fear him (Ps. 103).
Prayer: Dear Jesus, because you suffered the anger of God for my sin in my place I know that the crisis I am in is not a punishment from you. It feels like it sometimes, Lord, but please strengthen me by Your Holy Spirit to accept, believe, and trust that it is not. Your Word has promised that You do not treat me as my sins deserve. Help me to find comfort and peace in knowing that whatever this crisis may be, it is not a punishment. You are walking through it with me, and you are not standing over me or against me. You love me, though I don’t deserve it, and you will not forsake me. May these, Your promises, strengthen me to face this crisis. In Your name I pray. Amen.
Devotions For Times of Crisis ~ Day 2: “Why is God putting me through this?”
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
When a crisis hits, we feel the security and the certainty in our lives flee away from us at light speed. Gone is the sense of well-being. Gone is the satisfaction with our lives and our daily routines. There is an overwhelming sense that we are in a very deep ocean, with no boat around and no life-preserver to grab onto, and we’re about to go under. For those of us who insist on “living in the future” our minds begin to race uncontrollably, imagining every worse-case scenario imaginable. There is a sense of immanent threat or danger. There may also be a definite feeling that we are beyond the help of human beings, or at least without access to those who can help. That just increases the sense of foreboding that is washing over us uncontrollably.
In that drowning sea of unpredictability, uncertainty, fear, and loneliness we are apt to ask the question, somewhere along the line, “Why is God putting me through this? If God is in control of everything, and this calamity has befallen me, then why is God putting me through this? Is it to strengthen my faith? Is it to teach me a lesson? Is he testing me? Is he setting me up to be of help to someone else in the future who will go through a similar experience?” These are all questions that flood our minds. Sometimes we feel that if we could just read the mind of God and know that there is some meaning behind what we’re going through that it would be easier to bear with the burden.
The trouble is, we can’t read God’s mind. so the questions go unanswered; or so it would seem. But perhaps the problem is with the question itself. One thing I know, and know for sure: God doesn’t play with people as if they were toys. He doesn’t toy with us. He doesn’t put us through the ringer just to teach us a lesson, or to test us, or to punish us. God is a faithful God, not a manipulative and sadistic God.
God is NOT the source of crisis. God is not the cause of evil in our lives. He may use crises in our lives to strengthen us in faith, or to shape us as the individuals that He has called us to be in Christ Jesus, but He does not cause them.
We live in a sin-fallen world. Crises hit us all, and over a lifetime we’ll face many-a crisis. We are told in God’s Word that “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Whether it be the random happening of sin’s effects in this sin-fallen world, or the intentional attack of the devil on our lives to cause us harm, God has made us a promise: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). What Satan or the world may throw our way to cause us harm, God will twist and force to be something that brings us ultimate and eternal good and blessing. God forces evil to serve our eternal salvation.
Through the crisis we will learn to rely on God in ways that we have never perhaps experienced before. We will learn the truth of Scripture which tells us that God is “…my rock and my salvation” (Psalm 62:2). We will learn that God is there for us, even when we fear that He has abandoned us. We will know what it is like to find rest by committing ourselves into the Lord’s hands. So, our faith will be strengthened. But we must never confuse something that we learn with the purpose for which we experience tragedy. God doesn’t torture us in order to instruct us, He doesn’t play us that way, but He can – and will – use painful experiences to strength our faith.
God is faithful. With crises come certain temptations; temptations to doubt His goodness, His love, His promises. But God will never let a temptation come our way that can completely overtake us. He will always provide a way out. A temptation in crisis is to doubt His care and love. A way out is to remember that He is not a liar. He has made certain promises to you in Jesus Christ, and He cannot deny Himself. Cling to those promises and the temptation to hold God responsible for the crisis that has hit you will evaporate.
Know that God is actively at work through the process that you’ve now entered to fight for you. He didn’t bring it on you, but He will be working behind the scenes in His own mysterious, yet powerful, ways to turn this evil into something that serves your eternal interests. He will see you through. He is faithful. He is good. He loves you to death – not your death, but the death of His Son.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I don’t know why this event has happened to me, but I do know that it’s not something that You’ve brought my way. I believe that you are with me, and that you are fighting for me. You’ve promised to walk right beside me, even if I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Please give me your peace, your comfort, signs and remembrances of your love for me. Shorten the days of this crisis, and see me through safely to the other side of it. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.
Day 1 ~ "Where is God?"
Matthew 28:20b: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
When a crisis crashes into your life a flood of emotions and thoughts hit you all at once. There isn’t a logical progression of ideas and feelings that sweep over you in some sort of chronological order. It’s more like a spontaneous explosion, with thoughts and feelings flying everywhere in your head. They don’t follow any type of rhyme or reason. They just are; they just happen. I suppose that’s one of the first experiences that makes us feel disoriented, that makes us feel like life is suddenly out of control. We can’t even control our own internal responses to the event that has blindsided us. And in my own experience one of the questions that flies out of this Big Bang of emotional reaction is the question, “Where is God in all of this???”
It’s a strange question really, considering the fact that the crisis has just hit and that we haven’t had to slog our way through a long crisis yet, but nevertheless it’s one of the first questions to come. It’s closely related to another question, “Why Is God Letting This Happen To Me?” (which will be addressed in a separate devotion). I suppose the question, “Where is God in all of this?” gets at the fear that perhaps God has abandoned us. That is a real fear when a crisis hits, no matter how strong we are in our faith.
Isaiah 11:3 reminds us that human beings make judgments based on what we see and hear; that is, on outward appearance. We can do nothing more, for we cannot see beyond the information our five senses give us. Yet the judgments we make, based on such outward appearances, are very often wrong. We usually associate prosperity with blessing, and calamity with cursing. So when calamity hits us we instinctively feel that God is somehow against us, or that at the very least He has abandoned us. That feeling leads to thoughts such as, “What did I do to deserve this?” or “Why is God angry with me?” or “Why has God abandoned me?”
But such judgments fly in the face of what God’s Word has actually told us. In Matthew 28:20 Jesus promises that He will always be with us, even to the very end of time. There is no condition on that promise as if to say, “I’ll be with you, but only when times are good.” Or “I’ll only be with you when you’re living a completely holy life.” His promise is unconditional. His Word also promises us, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged" (Deut. 31:8). And again He promises, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
2 Timothy 2:13 reminds us that even “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” The God who promises to be with us always will never leave or abandon us. He is with us through thick and thin, through times of joy and through times of crisis. We may feel that God has abandoned us, but our feelings are lying to us. They, too, are sin-fallen, easily prone to wrong judgments. God’s Word creates our reality, and so our reality is that God is with us even though we may feel that He is far away from us.
“Where is God in all of this?” Right where’s He’s always been: right by your side. The one who sent His Son to die for you will not leave you or forsake you in the storms of life. Remember, “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). You are in Him and He is in you: “Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” John 14:23.
God is with you to comfort you, to love you, and to give you peace. You do not know where the journey that you have now begun will lead. You do not know how your life will turn out on the other side of this crisis. But you can rest assured that you are always in the hands of the Father, and His hands are gracious and good and faithful. He is a faithful God. You are never alone in the crisis that you are facing! Exactly how God will help you may not be fully realized until you are looking back on the crisis in hindsight. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. But while you go through it, repeat to yourself “My God is faithful. He will never leave me or forsake me” whenever you feel that you’re on your own. You are not. God’s Word has promised it.
Prayer: Father, I feel so alone and so distant from you. I can’t see you in this crisis, and that scares me. Father, remind me of Your promises. My feelings are lying to me right now, because you’ve promised that you’ll always be with me and that you’ll never forsake me. I don’t know how this crisis will finally be resolved, but I believe that you’ll be with me through it all. Give me your peace, your comfort, your love. I need it now. Amen.
Daily Devotions for those in Crisis
Years ago I wrote a series of daily devotions for those who are going through a crisis. The 13 day series was written to bring comfort, the reassure that God hasn't left anyone behind, and that He certainly isn't "punishing" for some sin, known or unknown. I still offer these devotions up to people that I know are in crisis, and have been told that they are very helpful.
Since we are in the midst of a pandemic that is bringing crises to so many of us, I am offering them up to again. If you are not in crisis, but know someone who is and who might benefit from the comfort of the Gospel, please feel free to share them.
Pastor Eric Gawura