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 result of our sins, but whichever the case, our afflictions are not God’s punishment for iniquity.
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 eternal. It commences upon death. The consequences of sin are temporal. They are confined to this life.
God’s penalty for sin is reserved for unbelievers who reject his salvation plan. The consequences of sin produce suffering for everyone, including reborn believers.
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 and the fullness of his grace.
Jesus Suffered Like Us
Jesus endured many of the same difficulties we face—e.g., pain, poverty, humiliation, rejection, loneliness, despair, disgrace, death.
He was perfect, so his afflictions could not have been God’s punishment for sin.
Penalty Already Paid
Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins—past, present, and future; intentional and unintentional; egregious and innocuous—when he died on the cross as our substitute.
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 punish us for sins that are entirely covered by this permanent atonement.
God Infuses Purpose
God helps us endure distress by infusing it with purpose and using it for good.
If earthly afflictions were God’s penalty for sin, he would not bother to produce goodness from them. He would simply let us suffer without purpose.
He would consider the absence of any benefit to our suffering to be part of our just punishment.
Indeed, the eternal punishment reserved for those who reject God’s salvation plan will have no redeeming value.
God may use the consequences of our sins or the afflictions that naturally arise in this fallen world to motivate us to repent of our sinfulness.
But even then, he is not punishing us for our iniquity. He is utilizing our distress to discipline us.
Not out of anger, in retaliation for something we did wrong. But out of love, as a teaching mechanism, because we are forgoing the full measure of his goodness.
God hopes our misery will persuade us to change our lives and walk in harmony with him, so we will learn anew that he is the sole source of true contentment.
Sometimes God avenges the unholy havoc wreaked by his egregious enemies. His vengeance is always lethal.
God knows these foes will never relent or repent, even if allowed more time, so he commences 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 exploited the Israelites and led them into idolatry. Slaying them eliminated their ungodly influence.
God sovereignly and righteously chooses the timing and targets of his vengeance.