I belong to an e-mail group of friends around the globe. It started as a place for missionary kids to connect, but has grown beyond that into a virtual extended family, even including some non-MKs, like me. The past couple of years have been rough for a number of people in the group: divorces, deaths, unwarranted legal charges, medical problems, and more.
A couple of days ago, one of the members was posting about the extreme physical pain he was having. After several days of suffering, he ended up in surgery to remove a kidney stone too large to pass on its own. For him, this is one more in a long line of difficult trials over the past few years. Another member who has also been dealing with some incredibly painful circumstances asked, “Does it ever feel like punishment?”
How often I have wondered the same thing. Are my circumstances simply a cursed situation in a broken world, or am I being singled out for being such a bad person? Or, in the same vein, since I’m such a bad person, what is God going to do to me … what future punishment is in store?
The thing is, I (should) know better. God is not looking to punish me. If He wanted to do that, He wouldn’t have bothered to send Christ in my place. I was reading through Romans 8 this morning–what incredible promises! This one particularly stood out to me.
You didn’t receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear once again. Instead you received the Holy Spirit, who makes you God’s child. By the Spirit’s power we call God “Abba.” Abba means Father. (Romans 8:15, NIrV)
Much like me, my dad didn’t have a real great understanding of grace during my growing up years. Like him, I understand justice much more easily than mercy. Even after all these years, it’s hard for me to picture You paying the price for all my sins. I get annoyed when my kids’ misbehavior costs me little things like money and time. I don’t want to show them grace. My misbehavior cost You so much more than a little time or money. Yet You aren’t looking to mete out punishment, but blessing. You allow discipline and trials and offer the same freedom to everyone–so in their freedom, others have to ability to impinge on mine–but You aren’t doing it to punish me for being bad. You have allowed suffering in this world for Your greater glory. I don’t quite get that, but I’m choosing to believe anyway. Like Paul, I want to consider whatever my current suffering may be, whatever I may experience in the future, it is all unworthy to even be compared with the glory that You have in store for me (Romans 8:18). Help me to hold on to that hope and not be disappointed.