John 5 opens with the account of Jesus healing a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. Afterward he vanishes into the crowd, but after the man has a confrontation with the Pharisees Jesus finds him in the temple and says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”
That verse rocked me on my heels the other day. Surely Jesus can’t mean what it looks like he means. It looks like he’s saying that people’s sufferings could conceivably be linked to their own sin. He doesn’t necessarily say that’s the case with the man’s former affliction, but he gives a clear warning that if the man sins, bad things could happen to him.
The reason this rocked me on my heels is that it struck me as very harsh. And I think it struck me as harsh because of my culture’s insistence on not saying things that are offensive. My first thought when I read this was, could you imagine the fallout from a pastor saying something like this from the pulpit? Implying that some of the suffering in our lives come from God as discipline for our sin? You’d be likely to get ridden out of town on a rail (whatever that means; it sounds pretty bad). And yet here’s the Savior, healing someone and then offering them this serious warning. I wonder how we would react if he walked into our church and said something like this.
Now, we don’t have exhaustive knowledge of God’s purposes like Jesus did, being God himself. We can’t look at a situation and know whether God is permitting something in order to discipline a disobedient son or daughter, or simply to draw them closer to himself, or some other reason. It would be way out of line for me to tell an individual they were suffering because of their sin; God hasn’t given me that kind of knowledge. But there are a lot of things like this that we’re scared to say, things that Jesus evidently wasn’t scared to say. One of those is that God brings tragedy and suffering into our lives for reasons that we don’t always understand, and sometimes he does it as a father disciplining his children for their sin. At first glance, it sounds a lot nicer to say, “God never meant this to happen to you,” or something of that nature, but that’s cotton candy counsel. Cotton candy is nice and all, but I’d rather have some good, strong medicine that will help get me well.