Mark D. Roberts

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In my last post I began to explain how suffering draws us into deeper fellowship with other Christians, and even with God. Astoundingly, this is true even when we suffer as a direct result of our own sin.
All suffering stems ultimately from human sin, but that does not mean every instance of suffering results from the sin of the sufferer. When His disciples ask Jesus whether a man’s blindness is a result of his sin or that of his parents, Jesus rejects both options (John 9:1-3). Many who suffer do so because of the brokenness of the world or the viciousness of human oppressors. But sometimes our suffering comes directly from our sin. The pain of shattered family life, for example, can result from adultery. In cases like these, when our suffering is in some sense deserved, does God stand far off in dispassionate judgment?
In Hosea 11 God recounts the history of Israel, the son whom He loved and delivered from bondage in Egypt. Yet the more God called out to Israel, the more Israel spurned the Lord and turned to idols. As a result, Israel will return to servitude, this time under the Assyrians, whose military might will squash the nation. God rightly judges His people for their sin, their adulterous rejection of Him and His love. Their suffering is deserved. But this doesn’t mean the heart of God has been hardened against his beloved people. After predicting the coming judgment, God laments:

Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows (Hos 11:8).

When the season of discipline is over, the Lord will bring His people home again (Hos 11:11) because His love and compassion for them have never been quenched.
This is the same Lord who “showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Rom 5:8). Even when our sin made us God’s enemies, our gracious Father sent His own Son to die for us so that we might live forever in fellowship with Him. “So now we can rejoice,” Paul continues, “in our wonderful new relationship with God — all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God” (Rom 5:11). Even as our entry into intimate fellowship with God depends upon God’s grace and not upon ourselves, so it is true of our ongoing fellowship with Him. When we sin, and when our sin leads to suffering, God is still with us, sharing our sorrow while offering forgiveness, healing, and hope.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not in any way minimizing the wrongness of sin. I’m not saying that our sin doesn’t matter to God, or that God doesn’t judge our sin. Without a doubt, our sin grieves the heart of God and stands under His righteous judgment. Scripture tends to use an even scarier word for God’s response to sin: wrath. God’s wrath is more than just His anger toward our sin. It’s also His condemnation of sin. So we who sin deserve the wrath of God.
Yet the God who condemns our sin doesn’t forever reject us or hate us. In fact, the good news is that God came Christ came to deliver us from the results of divine wrath. In Christ we see God’s compassion and mercy, God’s care for us even when we are caught in sin. In this reality we find reassurance and hope. In my next post in this series I show in greater details how we can be people of hope in the midst of a hurting world.

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