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Is God Punishing Me for My Sin?

god of love

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

One of the saddest questions I see in the blog search logs is this: I have ____________________. Is God punishing me for my sin?

If a person believes the Bible is God’s Word, then the answer to this question is Yes. God does afflict people because of their sin. God maims, sickens, and kills people, all because they violated one or more of his laws. No disobedience is too trivial for the thrice-holy God to punish. Remember Uzzah, the man who broke God’s law by touching the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-clad chest containing the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna? David commanded the Ark be moved by cart from one place to another. As it was being moved, the oxen pulling the cart stumbled. Fearing that the Ark would topple over, Uzzah, a Levite, reached out to steady the Ark. God rewarded Uzzah for his saintly effort by striking him dead.

In the Old Testament, God is shown using affliction and destruction to either make a point or to get someone to do what he wants them to do. God is definitely a hands-on kind of deity, punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. In the New Testament, we are told God often afflicts Christians to test them or make them stronger. Sometimes, God uses heartache and tragedy to get Christians’ attention. I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his (their) warnings.

Then there are the times that God maims, afflicts, or kills people because he wants them to give praise and glory to his name. God, ever the adoration-seeking narcissist, will go to great lengths to get people to worship him. In the still of the night, God comes into the bedroom of the infant daughter of Christians Bobby and Isabelle. Is God there to admire the beautiful little girl? Perhaps he wants to tell her that she will some day grow up and be a woman greatly used by God. Sadly, on this night God had a more sinister plan in mind. He reaches into the crib and puts his nail-pierced hand over the baby’s mouth and quietly suffocates the child to death. Why would a supposedly loving, caring, and kind God do such a thing? For no other reason than, come morning, he wants the dead child’s parents to give praise and glory to his name. No explanation will be forthcoming. Bobby and Isabelle will be expected to act as if their daughter’s death is all part of God’s wonderful plan for their life.

Christians believe God is the creator of the universe, and as the Sovereign ruler of all, he has complete and absolute control over everything. When Christians face sickness, disaster, or the loss of a loved one, they are reminded by their pastor and friends that God is bigger than their circumstances. Just trust God, they are told. Surely, he is using your troubles to make you stronger and draw you closer to him. Suffering Christians might even be asked to search their hearts for some sort of secret sin that lies buried deep within. Perhaps God is trying to get them to acknowledge and forsake this secret sin.

The things I have mentioned above are some of the reasons I am no longer a Christian. What kind of God operates in this manner? Of course, I am sure someone will tell me, a la Romans 9: Bruce, how dare you question God! For many Christians, God is above reproach. Even when he acts like a psychopath, God is given a free pass. After all, the Christian says, God’s ways are not our ways. We must trust and believe that God knows best.

Sadly, many Christians are so disconnected from reality that they cannot or will not see things as they are. If a mere human did what the Bible says God did, he would be tried before a world tribunal for crimes against humanity. And I have no doubt that he would be convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. Perhaps God deserves the same judgment and punishment.

It’s better to believe that shit happens in life — no deity required. People get sick, face untold suffering, and die. Through genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices, people are afflicted with all kinds of diseases. In many cases, these diseases are what will eventually kill them. It’s far better to believe that this is how life is than to think that there is a God in Heaven set on afflicting us for our sin or because he needs his ego stroked.

The liberal Christian is likely to scream foul and say, God is love. Yes, according to the Bible, God is love, but he is also everything else I have mentioned in this post. To liberal Christians I say, please take off your blinders and read ALL of the Bible. Ignoring the portions of the Bible that make you uncomfortable or make God look like a mean, vindictive, son-of-a-bitch, doesn’t change the fact that those passages ARE in the Bible. If these accounts are not to be accepted as an accurate description of God and how he operates, why should we then be expected to believe that God is love or that Jesus is who and what Christians claim he is? Where’s the instruction manual for playing the pick-and-choose Bible Game®? From my seat in the atheist pew, it looks like many Christians are just making up the rules as they go.

If God is unchanging and Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then Christians have no other option but to accept God as he is described in the Bible. If Christians are unwilling to do so, then they need to be honest and admit that they have fashioned a God in their own image. Either that or Christians must admit that the Bible is not a divine book; that it is just a work of fiction written by men thousands of years ago.

For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way, I believed God was either punishing me for sin, making me stronger, or teaching me a lesson. Much like John Bunyan’s Pilgrim on his way to the Celestial City, no matter what came my way, I continued to endure and run the race set before me.

My wife and I are quite matter-of-fact about life. This drives some people crazy, but we have been deeply influenced by Christianity and its belief that we are to bear whatever adversity comes our way. We believed for most of our adult lives that God was faithful and would never give us more than we could bear. This kind of thinking can make someone quite passive about life. Since God is behind everything, Christians are expected to keep trusting and believing right up to the moment they draw their last breath. No kicking, no screaming, no defiance. Just a sweet, thank you Jesus smile as they are carried away by angels to Heaven.

smile god loves you

This kind of thinking makes people less human. It often robs them of their will, their desire to live. Many Christians are like the Apostle Paul, who wished he could die and go to a better place. After all, according to the Bible, this world is such a sinful, wicked place that death becomes the sweet release. But what if Christians are wrong about life, suffering, and death? Let me use here what I call reverse Pascal’s Wager. What IF this life is all the Christian has? What if death really is the end? Shouldn’t Christians want to enjoy THIS life to its fullest? Wouldn’t they want to live every moment of every day in such a way that reflects the brevity and finality of their lives? Instead of living according to the notion that they are most miserable if this is all there is, how about seeing that life is a great blessing, even if there is no afterlife.

Despite the physical struggles, pain, and debility that dominate my life, I am grateful to be counted among the living. I’m not ready to become worm food, nor am I ready for people to say lies about me at my funeral. I refuse to go “gentle” into the night (Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night). I will not stand like a lemming in line waiting for the Wraith to come and turn me into food. Life is worth living, and I don’t need the promise of eternal life to make it so. And I sure as hell don’t need to concern myself with thoughts of a mythical, sin-punishing God who finds some sort of perverse pleasure in pulling the wings off his creation.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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37 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Lynn123

    Amen, Bruce. Christians have so much to torture themselves with from the Bible. Someone who is sick and trying to figure out how they displeased God would make me very angry! Who needs that crap?!

  2. Avatar
    Suzanne

    Did you see that Pastor Davey Blackburn is now claiming that God took his wife away from him via a brutal murder so that the church could grow? Quoted it over at NLQ. This type of thinking is really crazy making.

  3. Avatar
    Kenneth

    Don’t hold back on the truth, Bruce! Clearly, you have become sick and tired of Christianity, but I honestly can’t blame you. Christian’s will never grasp the reality of what believing in God does to them. Believe me, I was the same as them also not long ago. In all fairness, they are in too deep and worried about their own personal convictions and wishful thinking to ever consider they are wrong. However, teaching people to do their research in the Bible, its history, and how it isn’t good for them is a start. People just need to learn to be thinkers and use that brain once in a while! Or, they can just continue to live in their fantasy world and leave us alone.

    • Avatar
      Brian

      Kenneth, many many people claim that they have thought themselves to a place where they are free of Christianity. I understand that but do not really see it. I think we feel ourselves free of woo-woo, When I decided (thought) that I mattered enough to honor my own feelings, my feelings carried me free of Christian belief. There is no clear intellectual path that totally overcomes our historical need to fantasize: We bring our fantasy to the table and either say yes or no. For me it is a clear no now, not fettered by many years of woo-woo.

  4. Avatar
    That Other Jean

    I’ll just leave this here:

    “Babylon 5: A Late Delivery from Avalon (#3.13)” (1996)

    Marcus Cole: I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.

  5. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I can’t remember the actual quote or who said it, but I agree with the notion that I want to make a home run slide into my grave, shouting “That life was one helluva ride!” Physical infirmity does limit me, as it does Bruce, and we’re not the only ones. But living life fully is a matter of attitude. Now that I’ve been an atheist for awhile, I can’t see myself living another way.

  6. Avatar
    Shy1

    Poor Uzzah. All he was trying to do was be that one guy who looks after God, the one who’s so close to God he actually holds God up with his own hand. “Yeah, you know God? Well *I’m* the guy whose strength protects him.” You know that saying, “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” There’s a lot of guys these days who think they are indispensible to God and it’s their job to be God for God, who maybe ought to pay attention to the story of Uzzah.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Uzzah did what any of us would do when something is getting ready to tip over. Imagine if everyone just let “God” take care of things. God killed Uzzah because he valued blind obedience more than common sense. Not that I believe God, a mythical being, killed anyone.

      • Avatar
        Shy1

        I understand your belief about it being mythical. I’m just saying, according to the account, he knew that anyone who touched the ark would die. Why not let it fall if it was going to fall. Wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to let God take care of things since it was God who needed to be taken care of?

        It’s interesting how the Bible is written, there is so little detail, so little description. We all read into it somewhat differently. I kind of see Uzzah as a guy who was ready to be pope. But that’s just me!

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          Sure, but God wouldn’t have taken care of it because he doesn’t exist. Even those who profess to be Christians spend most of their doing exactly what Uzzah did…acting like a responsible adult. Using your logic, no one should ever go to the doctor. The Bible says, the prayer of faith will save (heal) the sick. No need for medical treatment. Just let God do what God is going to do.

          • Avatar
            Michael Mock

            …And there are several bits in the Bible where dealing with the divine seems to be described in terms that, to modern eyes, resemble OSHA regulations more than interactions with a sentient, discerning intelligence. A lot of it seems to be aimed at reinforcing the idea that God is Just That powerful — “You can’t look at My face, because you wouldn’t survive the sight of that much raw Awesomeness” — and Uzzah’s fate, I think, fall into a similar category. It wasn’t that God was offended by his actions and struck him down; it was that the Ark was so full of divine power that only the members of a certain tribe (who had been granted God’s Divine Insulated Gloves) could safely touch it. Uzzah wasn’t punished for his sins, exactly; it was more that Uzzah saw an electrical main start to come loose and tried to plug it back in by hand while standing on a metal stepladder.

            I’d agree that we’re talking mythology, but this strikes me as the sort of mythology that you see in a lot of epic fantasy: “Oh yeah? Well my character is so powerful that a guy once died just from touching my character’s luggage!!!”

  7. Avatar
    Shy1

    “For most of my adult life, I lived as a stoic, come-what-may, Christian. No matter what suffering, trial, or adversity came my way I believed God was either punishing me for sin”

    I’m confused, Bruce, what about “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ? I’m just curious, I don’t know much about your beliefs as a Christian.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      It’s simple. The Bible is a book of contradictions. Every belief can be proved from the Bible. This is why there are thousands of Christian sects. This is why there are millions Christians, each with their own interpretation of the text. When I am asked, who is right?, I say, they all are.

  8. Avatar
    John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    In OT people were executed for adultery by brutal and inhumane stoning, yet David was not executed for his adultery. The average Evangelical must have a difficult time trying to explain how the so-called Mosaic penalties are the Word of God. It is far easier to see contradictions in the bible (unless one is brainwashed by Fundamentalist propaganda over many years) than trying to reconcile the irreconcilable.

    To be preoccupied with why God is allegedly punishing someone for their sins because they are sick is very unhealthy. The average Evangelical needs to change his/her views. Rather than see God as a god of retributive judgment and punishment, perhaps they would be better off viewing God as a God of love whose justice is restorative or to abandon the idea of God altogether. That would reduce their anxiety immensely (over some time, perhaps).

    After all, why is it that many Fundamentalists see sickness as a sign of God punishing people for their sins or disciplining his so-called elect, when (if we accept Fundamentalist theology) we all sin. So why isn’t God punishing us all, now, and only punishing some in this life? Why is it that many non Christians have good health for most of their lives and many Christians have bad health? I agree with you that it has nothing to do with God but more to do with other things, some of which are beyond our control.

    Yet, many a Fundamentalist will rush to judge someone who has a long term illness with ideas from the bible (which has no knowledge of modern medicine) and place condemnation on sincere Christians who may have been given a set of genes that predisposes them to certain illnesses.

    Thanks for this post, Bruce. Keep posting. There is many a lurking Fundamentalist who needs to hear what you have to say and if some take the journey towards non Fundamentalism, your writing will be for a noble purpose. Such people will become liberated from the shackles of a very destructive ideology and will be given a means to take the path towards a more humane life.

    Shalom,

    John Arthur

      • Avatar
        John Arthur

        Hi ismellarat,

        I checked the link you provided but am not convinced of the apologist’s argument. Two or three witnesses were required for evidence. That there were not two or three witnesses seems immaterial to me because David confessed his guilt when Nathan accused him, so no witnesses were needed to establish his guilt. How will the Fundamentalist explain that adulterers were executed when guilt was established but, in David’s case, he got off free?

        Shalom,

        John Arthur

        • Avatar
          Bruce Gerencser

          The Bible says he is a man after God’s own heart, yet he is an adulterer and a murderer.

          Of course, outside of one extra-Biblical reference, there is no proof that David was a real person. I suspect his life, as recorded in the Bible, is largely a myth.

      • Avatar
        Bruce Gerencser

        People often forget that God punished David for his sin by killing his newborn child. Makes perfect sense, right? I murder someone, but the judge doesn’t punish me for my crime. Instead, he executes my son.

    • Avatar
      That Other Jean

      How is it that ‘adulterers were executed when guilt was established but, in David’s case, he got off free?’

      It is good to be the king?

      • Avatar
        John Arthur

        Hi “The Other Jean”,

        Yes, but this doesn’t seem to me to be an option for the Fundamentalist. The bible says that “God is no respecter of persons”. Their god is supposed to be impartial, but as this, and many other stories show, he is far from impartial.

        Th story is mythical and was probably written a long time after this mythical kingwas supposed to have existed. Moreover, the Pentateuch (which contains the so-called Mosaic Law) was written after David was supposed to exist (at least, most of it was) and is a compilation of contradictory strands (J, E, P, and D). Of course, the Fundamentalist rejects the idea that the bible contains many myths as well as higher critical techniques as being apostacy.

        As Ismellarat pointed out, “I wonder how history would have turned out had God required people to incriminate themselves for any transgressions they committed.”

        Shalom,

        John Arthur

        • Avatar
          John Arthur

          I should have written,

          “Of course, the Fundamentalist rejects the idea that the bible contains many myths as well as the use of higher critical techniques and sees these as being apostacy.”

  9. Avatar
    ismellarat

    “I’ve been told by numerous Evangelicals that the reason I’m in so much physical pain is that God is trying to get my attention. I’ve even been warned that God might kill me if I continue to ignore his warnings.”

    Isn’t it a simple matter to turn the tables on these hypocrites?

    Make a list of the top twenty or so conditions that probably affect 99% of the population and ask anyone who wants to bring this up if they have them. Especially older ones, who one would think have matured in their faith so much that there would never be a thing wrong with them – yet they seem to be constantly backsliding, as their physical symptoms prove.

    Tell them they’re obviously not walking the walk themselves, because if they were they wouldn’t be suffering from X.

    I’ve heard of people putting away their glasses before entering such a church. Do they have a medicine cabinet?

    Hell, I’d be going out of my way to set up such conversations. “I don’t believe like you do…. I just feel so sick anymore, I don’t understand…”

    Then comes their reaction, and then your sucker punch. “Are you sure you secretly don’t believe like I do, since you have X? I guess only God knows what’s really in your heart. It’s never too late, you know. Let’s pray about your hidden sins…”

  10. Avatar
    Brian

    Whenever I tried (I no longer do) with my family to share my distress at what a horrible prick God insists on being in the OT, I would be lovingly corrected, reminded that all that is done and past because Jesus! And don’t I know that God has all the Calvin cards after all and even knows before he knows what is to be eventually known and unknown, you know? And what are we who know so little, are so unknown in ourselves!
    After crawling half-dead out of the IFB Church of the Perpetual Mindfuck, one understands, begins to understand at least, how fundagelical faith is based in transgressing decency and basic social boundaries that healthy people learn to respect.
    George Carlin is gone now but he would lay waste to this sort of assault quite well…

  11. Avatar
    Julie S.

    I know I’m a bit late to this party, but I just wanted to say, Bruce, how much I love this post. I have suffered many things during my 48 yrs on this earth. Bizarre things & so many tragic things that if I wrote a book, most ppl would find it unbelievable. And I got so SICK & TIRED of hearing the same old lame tripe thrown about by the Christians in my life at the time. Mainly because I knew then (but couldn’t admit it to myself until years later) that it was all a pile of bullshit! The one that really chaps my hide is the generic “I’ll be praying for you”. Yeah sure you will.

    Unfortunately, I’m the one with the proverbial black cloud that follows them thru life. I struggled for years with the thoughts that all of the tragedies and difficulties/trials I suffered were somehow MY fault. How freeing it was to finally realize that the whole God thing is complete BS & I just happen to be one extremely “unlucky” person. The hard times are still painful, but I no longer carry the burden of self-hate & guilt which once used to weigh on me heavily. Being free of that helps me deal with matters head-on for what they are & not what I thought them to be.

  12. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    As I watch what’s been happening both here in the U.S. and the world, my own life, I have to say about all the stuff Fundies love to say, is my main sentiment towards the Bible God I’d disappointment, more than the molten hate I had harbored before. Which is why many people walk away from the churches, if not from God himself. Intense disappointment in all of this, including his personality traits. His ostensibly stated plans for my life, and others I’ve known. The decisions I made as I was taught, no way would I choose such paths today. I always felt like such a pawn, or a powerless child, instead of a legal adult ! How many horrors might I avoided had I just said ” no” more often. I sure am haunted by these musings today ! Even more, if the Christian bios I once perused at religious bookstores are any indication, you don’t have to be in sin at all to have a crap life. It’s just being in the wrong place, at the wrong time, or just one’s birth, period. People speculate about other’s woes in church, whether they are getting ” smitten” or whatever. Right now, a surprise winter storm has brought a killing cold, lightning, freezing rain. I think about homeless people only offered a shelter cot or jail cells, instead of the housing the new taxes proclaimed as for such a thing…..and how three people a day die from being outside. ” God loves the homeless ” these non-profits love to trumpet ! Churches of course, yell the loudest, even as they vote against the measures that the taxes were to pay for, as these funds are now found to go right into their pockets, rather than housing itself. They do the NIMBY dance, knowing that tents, and chaos will only get worse on the sidewalks and sidestreets, overpasses and offramps. Yup.

  13. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    Hunh. I was going to quote Marcus Cole, from Babylon 5, as a response to the unfairness of life–but I see that I already did that, back in December of 2015. I still agree with it.

  14. Avatar
    mary

    thanks for the repost. it’s right on. my inlaws were big into crime and punishment theology. they pulled this shit anytime there was something bad. but their problems were never punishment only testing. everyone elses were due to sin being punished by god. their favorite was to threaten us with god’s wrath if we dared question or veer away from their religion and demands. needless to say we are relieved they are no longer with us and that we have managed to shed their twisted views. thanks for taking the time to write this blog.

  15. Avatar
    Steve Ruis

    Many moderns will point out that your examples of a vengeful god are from the OT and the NT god, Jesus, is not like Yahweh, Jesus is the god of love. They apparently forgot that in the OT, Hell did not exist. Shades went to Sheol, a shadowy afterlife. Hell only rises to prominence in the NT. In other words, the “god of love” invented Hell. But only, of course, because he loves us.

  16. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I looked up Davey Blackburn, not a bad looking guy. He left one of the doors open when he went to his gym session at 5am, and two young hoods entered the house. They robbed the place,shot the wife. After this,he married, shut down the church and created a ministry called ” Nothing Is Wasted.”. Ugh ! Teaching people to embrace suffering. So glad I don’t allow such characters near me any more.

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Bruce Gerencser