Suffering is a consequence of sin, a manifestation of the evil that has damaged the world. It is not God’s penalty for sin.
We may suffer innocently through no fault of our own, or as a consequence of our personal sins, but the onset of affliction does not mean that God is penalizing us for our sinfulness.
Conversely, the relative lack of distress in our lives does not mean that God is pleased with our current level of godliness.
Penalty And Consequences
God’s penalty for sin is distinct from the consequences of sin in its nature, intensity, allocation, and duration.
God’s penalty for sin is reserved for unbelievers who reject his salvation plan. Everyone endures the consequences of sin, including reborn believers.
God’s penalty for sin is eternal. It commences upon death. The consequences of sin are temporal. They are confined to this life.
God’s penalty for sin terminates all access to him, his forgiveness, his contentment, and the goodness he produces.
The consequences of sin never annul our relationship with God. Amid affliction, we still retain access to him, his forgiveness, his contentment, and the goodness he produces.
Jesus Suffered Like Us
Jesus endured many of the same difficulties we face—e.g., pain, poverty, humiliation, rejection, loneliness, despair, disgrace, and death.
He was perfect, so his afflictions could not have been God’s penalty for sin.
Penalty Already Paid
Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins—past, present and future—when he died on the cross.
God credits this payment to our account when we are reborn spiritually. He marks “paid in full” next to our name and gives us a free, irrevocable pass to heaven.
God has no reason to penalize us for sins he has already atoned for himself.
God Infuses Purpose
God helps us endure distress by infusing it with purpose and using it for good.
If affliction was God’s penalty for sin, he would not bother to produce goodness from it. He would simply let us suffer without purpose.
God would consider the absence of any benefit to suffering to be part of our just penalty.
Sometimes God avenges the unholy havoc wreaked by his unrepentant enemies. His vengeance is always lethal.
God knows these foes will never relent or repent, even if allowed more time, so he begins their eternal punishment before they can further undermine his earthly efforts.
For example, in Numbers 31, God instructed Moses to slay the Midianites, a nomadic tribe in the Sinai desert.
The Midianites incurred God’s wrath because they took advantage of the Israelites and also led them into idolatry. Slaying them eliminated their ungodly influence.
God sovereignly and righteously chooses the timing and targets of his vengeance.