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Suffering​—Is It Punishment From God?

Suffering​—Is It Punishment From God?

LUZIA LIMPS ON HER LEFT LEG. As a small child, she contracted poliomyelitis, a highly contagious disease that attacks the body’s nervous system. When she was 16, a lady whom Luzia worked for told her, “God punished you with paralysis because you were disobedient and nasty to your mother.” Years later, Luzia still remembers how devastated she felt.

WHEN DAMARIS LEARNED THAT SHE HAD BRAIN CANCER, her father asked her: “What have you done for this to happen to you? You must have done something very bad. That is why God is punishing you.” Damaris’ spirit was crushed by his comment.

The thought that sickness is punishment from God has a long history. The book Manners and Customs of Bible Lands says that many in Christ’s time believed that “sickness was caused by either the sin of the sick person, or of his relations, and that it was sent as punishment for that sin.” Medieval Medicine and the Plague says that in the Middle Ages “some people believed that God brought plagues to punish them for their sins.” So when millions throughout Europe died from the plague in the 14th century, was God executing judgment on wicked people? Or was the plague simply caused by a bacterial infection, as medical researchers have since determined? Some may wonder, does God really use sickness to make people suffer for their sins? *

CONSIDER: Why would Jesus heal people who were sick if sickness and suffering were deserved punishments from God? Would that not amount to undermining God’s justice and righteousness? (Matthew 4:23, 24) Jesus would never counteract God’s actions. He said: “I always do the things pleasing to him” and, “I am doing just as the Father has commanded me to do.”​—John 8:29; 14:31.

The Bible is clear. Jehovah God “is never unjust.” (Deuteronomy 32:4) For example, God would never cause an airplane disaster, killing hundreds of innocent people, because he wanted to punish someone on board! In harmony with God’s righteousness, Abraham, a faithful servant of God, said that God would never “sweep away the righteous with the wicked.” That would be “unthinkable,” he said. (Genesis 18:23, 25) The Bible also says that “God does not act wickedly”; he does not “do wrong.”​—Job 34:10-12.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES US ABOUT SUFFERING

The suffering we encounter is not divine punishment for a specific sin. Jesus himself was very clear on this matter when he and his disciples saw a man who had been blind from birth. “His disciples asked him: ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered: ‘Neither this man sinned nor his parents, but it was so that the works of God might be made manifest in his case.’”​—John 9:1-3.

In view of prevailing misconceptions, Jesus’ disciples must have been surprised when he told them that neither the man nor his parents had sinned in a way that brought on misfortune. Not only did Jesus cure the man’s blindness but by so doing he overturned the erroneous belief that suffering  is punishment from God. (John 9:6, 7) Those who suffer from serious health problems today can find comfort in knowing that God is not the cause of their affliction.

Why would Jesus heal sick people if God was punishing them for wrongdoing?

The Scriptures assure us

  • “With evil things God cannot be tried, nor does he himself try anyone.” (JAMES 1:13) Indeed, the “evil things” that have plagued mankind for centuries, including sickness, pain, and death, will soon be eliminated.

  • Jesus Christ “cured all who were suffering.” (MATTHEW 8:16) In healing all who came to him, God’s Son demonstrated what God’s Kingdom will accomplish on a worldwide scale.

  • “He [God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”​—REVELATION 21:3-5.

WHO IS TO BLAME?

Why, then, does mankind experience so much pain and suffering? Mankind has been pondering that question for centuries. If God is not to blame, who is responsible? The answers to those questions will be discussed in the next article.

^ par. 4 Although there have been times in the past when God has punished people for specific sins, the Bible does not indicate that Jehovah is now using such things as sickness or tragedies to punish people for their sins.