Sometimes it’s obvious to see that our sin leads to suffering. If you murder someone and a relative murders you, the correlation between suffering and breaking God’s law is pretty obvious. The same goes if you steal someone’s car and are put in prison. Or disobey your mother and end up losing your pocket money.
But often the link between pain and sin is not obvious and people wonder if there is a correlation. Did I have a car accident this morning because I didn’t go to church? Have I been diagnosed with cancer because I can’t bring myself to forgive my sister for what she did to me and have ignored all her attempts at reconciliation?
Alarmingly, for all us sinners, the Bible does present a correlation between sin and disasters that would normally be considered unrelated.
An example would include that of Miriam, the sister of Moses: In Numbers 12 we read: ‘Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?”…The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them. When the cloud lifted from above the Tent, there stood Miriam– leprous, like snow.’ Miriam and Aaron were jealous of their brother Moses and their sin led to Miriam having leprosy. It is only by their confession of sin that Miriam is spared from great illness and death.
A New Testament example of suffering for serious sin comes from the church in Corinth and relates to the Lord’s Supper. Paul says ‘A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30). People weren’t eating rightly and were getting sick, even dying.
Now, we cannot connect all health problems and suffering to a specific sin. Jesus clearly says that all tragedies do not mean that those who suffered were worse sinners than those who didn’t suffer. Luke records Jesus’ words for us: ‘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’ (Luke 13:1-5).
Thus we cannot look at someone who is suffering greatly and say, ‘He must be a great sinner’. Jesus encourages everyone to repent of their sin, whether they have pain or not.
But, if we suffer, we do have a good reason to ask ourselves, ‘Is there an unrepentant sin in my life that explains my suffering?’
And if you find something, confess it to the merciful Lord. He will forgive. And he may just release you from your burden as he did for Miriam.