A woman wrote me about a miscarriage she experienced. She asked if she was being punished. It was heartbreaking. Miscarriages are painful enough without having to wonder if God is upset with you.
We experience trials because we live in a fallen world
Trials take place as long as we’re on this side of heaven, but they’re not our fault. Why does God allow them? He uses them to:
- Mature us: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2–4; see also Romans 5:3–5).
- Strengthen our faith: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).
As I look back at trials I’ve experienced, they were painful, but I’m thankful for them. God used them for my benefit.
We experience discipline because we sinned
Hebrews 12:5–6 records:
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”
God punishes us when we sin. He wants to produce fruit and righteousness in our lives. While this doesn’t feel good, we should embrace the chastening, understanding God is doing something worthwhile. The author of Hebrews goes on to say in verses 11–13:
Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.
How true are these verses! If you think about the chiropractor analogy, nice, gentle back rubs feel good. They are enjoyable. But they don’t do much for our lower back problems. If we really want to grow, we must experience discomfort. The Greek word for “trained” is gymnazo, and it’s related to the English word “gymnasium.” It means to exercise vigorously. Improving is hard work. As a result, there are two things we need to do when God is chastening us:
- Give ourselves the exhortation the author of Hebrews gives his readers and strengthen our weak hands and feet, trusting God to make straight paths for us. It is not easy or enjoyable to deal with our weaknesses, but that is how we allow God to work.
- Repent—turn from our sin.
The huge problem with confusing discipline and trials
If you’re suffering because of something you did, that’s not a trial. You’re being disciplined for your sin. It was unfortunate when that woman experienced a miscarriage and thought it was her fault. But it’s also unfortunate when people sin, are disciplined, and say:
- How could this happen to me?
- What did I do to deserve this?
- Why am I so unlucky?
- Why do I keep experiencing bad things?
If we sinned, the answer to each of these questions is, “Because of what I did.”
Only certain people receive the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” According to Hebrews 12:11, it’s those who “have been trained by [the chastening].” This means they’ve learned from what they did. But when people confuse discipline and trials, they don’t receive this fruit. They don’t think their suffering is their fault. Instead, they think they’re unlucky. They simply have it worse than others.
This prevents them from looking to the real cause of their problems, which is their sin. As a result they never repent. This prevents spiritual growth, and often causes us to repeatedly experience the same suffering. When this happens, we have to have the wisdom and humility to recognize this suffering isn’t a trial. It’s punishment for sinning.
- Do you see other differences between trials and discipline?
- Why do some people receive “the peaceable fruit of righteousness,” but others do not?
- What reminders do you need to tell yourself when you’re going through trials? Discipline?