Can We Judge God’s Intentions When People Suffer?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Bad things happen to people all the time.  They happen to you and to me, in places nearby and in places far away.  Sometimes when we see a person or persons suffering, and we don’t like their worldview, their moral beliefs, or lifestyle, we Christians do something that we need to stop doing.  We look at the people suffering and we think to ourselves, or even say out loud, “God is punishing them because they are unrighteous.”

There are infamous examples of Christians proclaiming judgment after hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes kill multitudes of people.  Those examples are bad enough, but I want to also call attention to the daily judgments we sometimes make about people who are suffering – people who we confidently believe are being punished by God because of their immoral actions.

Why should we stop judging God’s intentions in this manner?  Because we don’t know, in a given situation, what God’s intentions are.  He simply does not tell us and we need to stop acting like he does.  In addition, and more importantly, Jesus himself denies that we should judge those who suffer or die as more sinful than we are.

In Luke 13:1-5, Luke records the following conversation:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus first refers to some Galileans who were killed by Pilate as they sacrificed.  He flatly rejects the idea that these Galileans are worse sinners than others because they were killed.  Jesus then refers to eighteen people who died when a tower collapsed on them.  Again Jesus denies that these eighteen were more guilty than everyone else.

John Martin, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains these verses:

Jesus taught the crowds that calamity can happen to anyone because all are human. Jesus cited two common instances about destruction. The first concerned some Galileans who were killed by Pilate while they were offering sacrifices. The second concerned 18 seemingly innocent bystanders in Siloam who were killed when a tower … fell on them. Jesus’ point was that being killed or not being killed is no measure of a person’s unrighteousness or righteousness. Anyone can be killed. Only God’s grace causes any to live. This point is brought out in verses 3 and 5—unless you repent, you too will all perish. Death is the common denominator for everyone. Only repentance can bring life as people prepare to enter the kingdom.

Next time you think you can judge God’s intentions when people suffer, think again.  Remember that even Jesus refused to make these kinds of judgments.

2 thoughts on “Can We Judge God’s Intentions When People Suffer?”

  1. Foregoing that god does not exist, would a Christian ever think when they see an atheist happy as a lark, prosperous, and healthy that god is rewarding them? My gut reaction is they would think that the atheist is living on borrowed happiness and God will make them unhappy in the end. Which thought would be more likely? Just a thought…

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