In a recent Bible study, a fellow Catholic told a story from his life about a family member who was paralyzed in a car accident while driving drunk, and how he felt that the injury was God’s punishment for committing this sin. While not ruling out God’s capacity for temporal punishment for sin, I think this shows a misunderstanding of how His love and justice work. I’d like to talk to my friend about this and help him see that God does not deal with us in such a harsh “crime and punishment” sense. Is anyone familiar with scripture that might help make this point clear, or have any suggestions on explaining the concept?
I’d probably ask them, especially if they were a faithful Catholic, to pray Psalm 103 with me. Then I’d point out verse 10 and talk with them about it in a Pastoral fashion. One of the beautiful things about praying the divine office regularly is you get to come across these beautiful reminders of how much God loves us. I’d also in some way try to make the point that in blaming God for the consequences of the others actions, you are removing that person’s culpability. God did not desire them to be in the wreck, or to drive drunk. The person who made those choices, did so of their own free will. The repercussions of that are not God’s punishment, simply the result of bad choices.
Psalm 103 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)
Thanksgiving for God’s Goodness
A Psalm of David.
103 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live[a]
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor requite us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
so the Lord pities those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
upon those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
hearkening to the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
There is no necessity for God to divine punish. He has all eternity to do it and a special place for that too.
Anyone who endangers the lives of themselves AND others on a routine or occasional basis need not blame anyone else when chance catches up on them. One may get away once, twice and perhaps many many times. But eventually, the “luck” runs out. And now we need a scapegoat. Blame God. I’m sorry but too many times when bad things happen, it is God’s fault for letting it happen . What happens if some innocent bystander gets hurt instead of the drunken driver? God’s fault too?
Sin has consequences, but these are not punishment per se, but simply the way creation is many times allowed to work.
I always think about Luke chapter 13 which shows us, I think, that sometimes things just happen. And to try and figure out why can do our heads in, so it’s usually not best to dwell on it.
Luke13:1-5: “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay.”
Sin and evil miss the marks of reason and love.
To the person that does not comprehend that, that person will believe that God is punishing time.
Punish, pain, and penalty (in English) are coming from the same root, if my memory serves me correctly.
There is a built in penalty with I make a mistake in reasoning or in loving.
David lost his son as punishment for adultery and arranging for Bathsheba’s husband to go to war and be killed.
However, Jesus said the blind man was not blind due to the sin of his parents, but rather so that God could work through him (perform the miracle of healing him).
So, we know that sin does result in temporal punishment. However, we also know God’s desire to heal and save.
All that said, I am not certain we can know the will of God with certainty. We do know he is more concerned with our souls than our worldly lives.
I would ask your friend to pray to God so that he might better know His will, and try to look forward to doing God’s will instead of looking behind. He could help people young and old.
Even clergy have different leanings toward one side or the other when it comes to suffering (e.g. praying for healing versus bearing your cross and offering it up).