Best of Daily Reflections: Is God the Cause of Our Grief?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Her adversaries have become rulers; her enemies relax. Certainly the LORD caused her grief because of her many wrong acts. Her children have gone away, captive before the enemy. (CEB)

Lamentations 1:5

Every now and then, I find myself deeply unsettled and offended by the pronouncements of judgment offered by certain public Christian figures. Most often, this happens in the wake of some terrible natural disaster. Even before the hurricane flooding has fully subsided or the earthquake aftershocks have ceased, we’ll start hearing self-righteous explanations that point to God’s judgment. Inevitably, I’ll feel embarrassed to be associated with the proud pundits who bear the name of Christ.

Now here’s the shocker. We see something very much like this in Lamentations. Consider this verse: “[Judah’s] adversaries have become rulers; her enemies relax. Certainly the LORD caused her grief because of her many wrong acts. Her children have gone away, captive before the enemy” (1:5, emphasis added). Ouch! What are we supposed to do with this sort of claim when it’s right there in Scripture? Does this mean that those who utter such pronouncements today are standing on solid theological ground?

The translation of 1:5 is sound. The author of Lamentations clearly states that God caused Israel’s grief. Therefore, since this statement appears in Scripture, I accept it as true, no matter how I might at first feel about it. This text, among many others in the Bible, asserts that God sometimes causes suffering as a way of disciplining his people.

Yet, this does not license us to start explaining natural disasters as acts of divine judgment. For one thing, God clearly and unambiguously warned Judah in advance of what would happen if they rejected him and his justice, and turned to other gods (see, for example, Deuteronomy 28). Even apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the author of Lamentations could have known exactly why Judah was suffering. Moreover, God had repeatedly sent his prophets to warn his people and to urge them to be faithful. When their sin prevailed, God followed through on what he had promised.

So, those who claim to explain tragedies as acts of divine judgment are treading on perilously thin theological ice. They run the risk of attributing to God that which God has not done, thus blaspheming the Lord while turning many away from him. Moreover, they easily obscure the good news of God’s grace and love.

I would strongly urge Christians, including me, to judiciously avoid making pronouncements of divine judgment upon others when bad things happen to them. Yet, if we’re going to be people shaped by Scripture, we need to be open to the possibility that God will use grief to guide, mature, and shape us as his people. I’ll say more about this tomorrow.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you react when you hear Christians explaining natural disasters as acts of divine judgment? Do you think God ever uses suffering to discipline us? Why or why not?

PRAYER: Sovereign Lord, there are and will always be things about you I don’t understand, perhaps even things I don’t especially like. I must admit that I struggle with the idea that you caused the grief of Israel. I don’t like thinking about this. Yet, I am challenged by your Word to see you as you have revealed yourself. Yes, you are a God of love. You are love. Yet you are also a God of justice, a God whose word is trustworthy, a God who cannot tolerate sin.

Yet, you are also a God of amazing grace. How I thank you that you have carried our sickness and sorrows, taking them upon yourself in Christ. How grateful I am that you suffered in Christ for the sins of the world, including my sins.

Help me, dear Lord, to grow into a deeper knowledge of who you are, into a deeper experience of you, and into a deeper relationship with you. I pray in the name of Jesus, my Savior. Amen.