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Question and Answer

The Lord's Chastening

Question:

I've been attending a men's group which meets weekly. Today the question arose about sickness and conflict in people's lives. I referred these men to Hebrews 12:5-8 in regards to God chastening those He loves. I guess my question is this: does God inflict illness/adverse situations into people's lives as chastening or does He allow these things to happen? I read in Job 5:17-18 "Behold, happy is the man that God corrects, therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty, for He bruises, but He binds up, He wounds, but His hands make whole."

Answer:

The answer to your question is both. Let me explain. Of course, God lets evil things happen to His saints, and He is not by that reasoning the author of sin and its evil consequences. But He also ordains those happenings which in Hebrews 12 are called chastenings. That is the heart of the meaning of Romans 8:28: "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God..."

The distinction we must make is in the motive behind an action or happening that is in itself evil. A good example is found in Genesis 50:15-21 (which gives the complete context). Verse 20 says: "As for you (Joseph's older brothers), you meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."

The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, "Of Providence," covers this whole question in paragraph 2: "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, [who is] the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of the second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently."

Genesis 8:22 is given as an example of "necessarily," Jeremiah 31:35 for "freely," and Isaiah 15:24 & 27 for "contingently." In the case relating to Joseph and his brothers, the second cause was "freely": they freely hated Joseph; and yet their action of selling Joseph into slavery was because of their sinful nature. But God's "first cause" motive was to work all things together for the good of His people, as it always is in everything He ordains!

Now what is His purpose in letting evil things happen to His saints such as sin on their part or suffering that has no connection with their behavior? First, it is not punishment. All the punishment for our sins was laid on Jesus the Lamb of God (Is. 53:6). But evil in the life of a believer may be chastening for sin in his life (John 5:14) or merely to show God's greater glory in his life (John 9:1-3).

Further, I would recommend your reading two excellent articles in the February 2002 New Horizons: "Called to Suffering" by Theodore Georgian and "To Share Christ's Sufferings: Blasphemy or Blessing?" by T. Grady Spires. They are both excellent and timely.

But the richness of this subject rests in the nature of our sovereign God. A god helpless to stave off bad things that happen to His children is an impotent god. Our God is in control for "whatever comes to pass" (Ephesians 1:11). And He is holy in all His works, yet allows the evil to happen, even in the activity of Satan. Yet our enemy can do nothing that is beyond God's control (Job 1:2 and 2:6). There is mystery there, but great comfort to us whose trust is in Him alone.

I hope this has been helpful to you. May God bless you as you search out the deep things of the Word.


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