Punishment

Some big opportunities just fell through for me.  I wonder whether I am being punished for my sins.  How can I know?

It seems to me that when bad things happen to me, I can take it one of three ways:

  1. It is a punishment for sin;
  2. It is a test, not related to sinfulness; or
  3. It is neither.  Stuff just happens sometimes.

Most people would say #2 or #3.  Do mormons believe in earthly punishment for sin, other than direct consequences of the sin?  There are scriptural accounts of such things, but Jesus also said that God causes the sun to rise over the evil and the just: we cannot tell. by looking at an unfortunate person, whether their misfortune is the result of sin.  If my crops fail or if my career plummets, can it be a punishment for an unrelated sin against God?  Is this something that can be known through personal revelation?

Comments

  1. Two thoughts:

    1. Could the guilt and uneasiness felt when you ask yourself that question be a sort of direct punishment in itself?

    2.It seems to me that bad things happen for no particular reason all the time, but if something occurs and one of your first thoughts is, “I’m being punished for ____,” then there might be something to that.

  2. One more thought:

    3. It’s also possible that when things go horribly wrong, we search for something to pin the blame on, which could lead mistakenly lead someone to believe they are being punished for something they’ve done. This is sad, because it could needlessly add misery to an already miserable situation.

  3. Julie in Austin says:

    It’s really quite simple: you are being punished for being a poacher:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=692#more-692

  4. Bad things happen to good people and bad. To say that you are being punished for sin would imply that doing good has physical rewards. A corrrupt belief in my view. I have seen many good people suffer. It would be easy to say that when good people suffer it is because Satan is punishing them, but it is a cop out.

    Falling back on the “test belief” is worse. To think that the thrown fan belt on the way to the temple is a test of yuur faith or satan trying to stop you is self serving your own personnal needs and desires. Or worse by saying G-d did it because someone is in the vehicle is living a sinful life and should not go to the temple.

    Maybe in life fan belts break, relationships break up, and bad things happen to good people just “because”.

    Members, and most Christians, try to read more into every small happening in life more then there is. Sometimes life happens with good and bad times. Sin has not one darn thing to do with it.

  5. Julie, that thing’s a YEAR OLD! Plus, I’m really just trying to figure something out that happened to me, while Russell is perfect and thus outside the analysis…

  6. danithew says:

    Steve, I’m sorry to hear you’ve been disappointed in something you wanted. Really I am. I add that caveat because so often I’m silly or sarcastic in my interactions with you on the blogs.

    I just want to say that (it seems to me) that it is just as feasible that you have been preserved as you have been punished. With the vicissitudes of life as they are, who knows but that these opportunities would have led to some kind of disaster for you? Of course we never really know.

  7. I have recently discussed what divine punishment might amount to over at my site.

    http://mormondoctrine.blogspot.com/2005/04/questions-which-i-can-now-answer.html

    I personally endorse #3, that things just happen. That is life and one of the purposes of it. I accept #2 as applied to coming to this earth and suffering the things that simply happen. I don’t accept #2 as applied to any specific event.

    With regards to #1 I think that it is a bit superstitious. Our punishment for our sins can be taken away by Christ if we repent. This means that we need time to repent. If we are punished in this life for any sins we have commited then Christ will not be able to have taken them away, even if we repent later.

    I divide punishement into 2 parts. a) the correction part and b) the suffering part. The suffering part is in place IMO to encourage us to enter the correction part ourselves. This can be before we sin, thus averting it, or after the sin allowing Christ to suffer for it.

    But if we are punished without knowing 1) what it is for, 2) the purpose for the punishment or 3) if something really is a punishment at all, then the purpose of the punishment in question loses its efficacy.

  8. I think that many bad things could be overcome by faith. I also think many good things can come through faith. To have great faith, you can’t be sinning. So, I believe, things that could averted happen and some good things don’t come to fruition because of sin (in part).

    Does this mean that we well not be able to enjoy moules frites on occasion?

  9. I blame the monstrosity that you carry your Ipod in. Hand knit items belong on your head or dog. Get a new case, and see if your life turns around.

  10. Alas J., that’s exactly what it means. Sans-moules-frites.

  11. Steve, perhaps your parents sinned.

  12. Did something bad happen, or did something you thought would be good not happen?

    Cuz I’ve had lots of experience with both.

    Adversity can be looked at as an opportunity to exercise your faith. Often by exercising faith, adversity can become a blessing. It’s hard when you’re in the middle of it to think of it that way, but it’s been true for me again and again.

  13. Then perhaps it is I.

  14. Allow, if you will, a little analogy drawn from my own experience as a parenting.

    Parents get far too much of the credit for the good that their kids do.

    Parents get far too much of the blame for the bad that their kids do.

    The point being that yes, parents do have an important effect on their kids’ general behavior, and sometimes it is possible, given all of the particulars of a situation, to identify specific ways in which parental actions (or inaction) led to certain outcomes in their children. However, usually people take this to mean that all extremes of children’s behavior can be laid at the feet of the parents, which is certainly not the case at all.

    Same with consequences of sin. Sometimes we can trace a more or less causal relationship between our sins and their consequences, but that’s only in specific instances where most of the contributing factors are known. This doesn’t mean that we can always do this — in fact, I think we usually can’t. However, since we can do it in certain cases, the tendency is to extrapolate to all cases.

  15. Tom Manney says:

    Well, Steve, you can’t say Pres. Hinckley didn’t warn you of the dangers of high-stakes poker tournaments. Get ‘em next time.

    I think all three of your possible causes could be the reason for your disappointment. Remember the promise repeated through the Book of Mormon that those who keep the commandments of God will prosper in the land and those who don’t will not. I think it’s fair to say that “prosper” doesn’t have to mean monetary blessings, so I take the promise to mean that there is some degree of reciprocity, in general, between well being and righteousness. And obviously that can’t be the only reason why good and bad things happen to people because it’s obvious that not only do bad things happen to good people, but a lot of great things happen to really rotten scumbags, too — a number of Republicans spring to mind.

    So maybe you deserved it, or maybe it’s a test/growth experience, or maybe it’s random. Or maybe it’s your parents’ fault. Occasionally inspiration/instinct tells us what the cause was, but most of the time we never find out. You can wonder all you want, but it probably won’t help. So pound your pillow until the pain dulls, then buck up and carry on, tiger. We’re counting on you.

  16. Christina says:

    Does this mean we can’t buy your apartment? I hope!

  17. I wish sometimes that negative experiences could be cleanly attributed to divine punishment; at least that way, I’d be able to act with greater purpose and direction. As it is, when crap happens I find it difficult to know why — and for some reason, I feel like we should be entitled to know why these things happen.

  18. a random John says:

    I think this life is structured so that good and bad things will happen to all of us. These things aren’t always the result of our own actions, and in the short term, life is not fair. From an eternal perspective we should probably be glad that things aren’t fair in that if they were, we’d suffer the punishments we deserve. In the short term though, I think many Mormons put too much stock in super-natural cause and effect.

    A long, potentially boring example follows, you have been warned!

    For instance, one of the guys in the ward I grew up in felt that screwing up the sacrament prayer while blessing the sacrament and having to repeat it was a sure sign that you had sinned during the previous week. Perhaps it was for him, since he repeated on several occasions that this was a true principle, and it seems that if he believed this it would probably make him nervous enough while saying the prayer to cause him to screw up. Thus it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, for him at least. The annoying thing was that he listened VERY carefully when others would say the prayer, trying to detect their sins. Once he even hit me in the middle of the prayer, indicating that I had screwed up. I was pretty sure that I had it right and I looked over at the Bishop, who gave me a look of “I have no idea what that was about” and I started over from the beginning. Afterwards he swore that I had made a mistake, but couldn’t point out what it was. As a defence of his actions he brought up his theory about sinning and asked if I had sinned in the past week, causing me to mess up. I couldn’t believe it.

  19. I firmly believe that if our Heavenly Father is going to “teach us a lesson” for some misbehavior on our part, being probably the most perfect father figure there is (any arguments?)that we will know to what exactly this punsihment is related. ie: choice and accountability. We are given direct consequences so we can progress. Their is no sense in wondering if each and every difficulty or disapointment in life is due to our sins unless it is an obvious consequence to a mistake we have made. In which case…get repentin! And then we find ourselves all the better for it. Of course we are sometimes dilluted and fail to make the obvious connection, but I have faith that we are all capable of such discernment.
    I myself have just passed through a rough patch in which I was sure that the powers of the universe were out to get me. I came upon the following conclusions: 1)I needed some humbling (I think I actually prayed for it, will I ever learn?), and 2)that I had some big blessings in store. I think it was a little of both. I am stronger, maybe a little more humble (doh, gonna have to start THAT process all over again) and have gained some marvelous perspective as to the blessings that I have.

  20. Buck up, little camper!

  21. john fowles says:

    Stuff just happens. The test is in how we react to what has happened (e.g. remaining faithful, turning to God for guidance, etc.) and how we interact with that situation and the people around us. I don’t believe that God made your opportunities fall through or that he made X millionaire rich beyond imagination. God doesn’t care if you drive a BMW or a pinto. Life, chaos, and “stuff” just happens. Biology just happens too.

  22. THERE was a man in the land of New York City, whose name was Steve Evans; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.

    Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.

    And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.

    And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Steve Evans, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?

    Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Steve Evans fear God for nought?

    Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. And he bloggeth mightily day and night.

    But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

    And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

  23. Gilgamesh says:

    How about the Job phenomenon. we are punished for our righteousness.

    I also don’t think things just happen. If we are living righteously (no judgement meant) when bad things happen we are able to see the larger context, so our focus is in our faith and reliance on God. When we are sinning, the focus is on ourselves and what we may have done do deserve the bad thing. A personal example – my wifes car broke down with a $1500 repair job. Money we did not have and had to postpone some other items to pay for the repair. Definitley at the time I asked, what did I do to deserve this. Four days later, due to needing to pick up the repaired car, we took a different route than usual after a family trip. The next morning we heqrd of a fatal accident on our usual route at the time we would have been on that freeway. My wife looked at me and teared up, profoundly noting that $1500 was a small price to have our lives spared. Coincidence, perhaps – but I like to see the Lord working in our lives to protect us as best as possible without infringing on our agency or the agency of others.

  24. Gilgamesh says:

    And yes, I am inferring that I have more sins than my wife. She saw the larger context, I saw my suffering.

  25. Steve, I know the above is quite absurd … I just typed it because I find the story of Job interesting. Here we have a man who is good and a whole bunch of bad things happen to him. And it all starts because God is taunting Satan.

    That whole conversation between God and Satan seems pretty absurd to me. I’m not saying it couldn’t have happened. But there is something quite absurd about the scenario.

    Regardless, one might ponder the fact that Job had no idea his name was coming up in this kind of a conversation. There’s very little chance he is goign to think: “Darnit … those guys have been talking about me.” And I’m not sure that at any point of the story Job really gets an explanation for why he suffers so much. Instead, when Job challenges the idea that his suffering has any just cause, God shows up and flexes his muscles (“where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? I’m God! Who are you?).

    Job is consequently intimidated and backs down from his challenge. Then he has everything restored to him. A rather quick and tidy ending to a disturbing story.

    Can we get any comfort or learn anything form this Biblical story? Maybe. But I think one of the main points of the story is that we are rarely able as human beings to really see what connection the events of our lives have to any grand plan or divine knowledge. During mortality we may never fully get out of the “why stage” after some of these things happen to us.

  26. n a small village, somewhere in China, there was an old man who had everything – a loving son, all the material wealth he needed as well as a horse worth a fortune that was the envy of all his neighbors.

    One day, his horse jumped over the fence and got lost in the woods. Gone in an instant was his most valuable possession. Hearing about the accident and feeling sorry for the old man, the people in his village said, “You lost your horse, what a terrible tragedy for you. Oh, what bad luck …” As they each offered their condolences, his reply was always the same: “Bad luck, good luck Öhow do you know it is a tragedy?”

    A few days later, the hungry horse returned to the old man, knowing there was food and water at the old man’s barn. The horse brought twelve other wild and beautiful horses with him. When the old man’s neighbors heard about his great fortune, they all thought he was extremely lucky and told him so. The wise, old man simply replied: “Bad luck, good luck… how do you know it is good luck?”

    The next day, his son saddled and tried to ride one of the new horses. The horse threw him from the saddle and the fall injured him badly. Doctors said the boy was incurably lame. Farmers from the village came to offer their condolences to the old man, saying: “Oh, your only son, disabled forever, what a tragedy, what bad luck…” The old man replied, “How do you know it’s bad luck or a tragedy?”

    Months passed into years and war broke out. They collected men and boys from every city to join the army and took soldiers from every village, but the crippled boy, unable to fight, remained with the old man. The following week, the news came that a great battle killed all the soldiers from their village.

    An important lesson: You never know what is bad luck or good luck. Never rely on luck to get you closer to your goals.

  27. yddy42…. nice story. But do mormons believe in luck or fortune? And where is God in the story? What is his causal role?

  28. James Mainord says:

    Hello Steve,

    I’m a new poster here. I really enjoyed this post and it made me think of the classic Hugh B. Brown talk entitled “God is the Gardner.” The doctrine is simple, but I do appreciate the principle of simple faith it teaches.
    Here is a short excerpt taken from a FARMS talk by Elder Robert E. Wells.

    President Hugh B. Brown remembered a lovely currant bush in his yard that he had carefully trimmed to be attractive and to produce the best fruit.

    One day, noticing that it had started to branch out again, he reached for the pruning shears. As he approached the currant bush, he imagined it to say, “Oh, please don’t cut me back. I’m just getting started, and I want to be big like the shade trees.”

    He imagined his response to be: “No, my little bush. I am the gardener here. I have planted you to be a source of fruit and an adornment in this part of my garden, and I am going to prune you back to size.”

    Many years later, as a colonel in the Canadian forces during World War I, Hugh Brown hoped for an illustrious military career. The next promotion to general should have been his, but when the vacancy occurred, his superiors told him, “We are promoting someone else.”

    He retired to his quarters, crushed with disappointment, and knelt in prayer, asking fervently: “Heavenly Father, why couldn’t my prayers have been answered? Haven’t I lived up to my covenants? Haven’t I done everything I was supposed to do? Why? Why?”

    And then he seemed to hear a voice, an echo from the past, saying, “I am the gardener here. You were not intended for what you sought to be.” Humbled, Hugh Brown then prayed for patience to endure the pruning and to grow as the Lord would have him grow.

  29. James Mainord says:

    A more complete and much longer version of this story can be found at

    http://www.cancertutor.com/LDS/905_Hugh_B_Brown.html

  30. James, that’s a great story, and a classic speech. You should listen to recordings of him giving it — a great orator.

  31. Davis Bell says:

    All three, I think. As far as whether one can know which of the three it is by personal revelation, I’m not sure. I do believe God punishes us for sin beyond the direct consequence of the sin — just as I believe he rewards us for righteousness beyond the direct consequence of the rigtheous act.

  32. Davis, that’s a tough one — do we really believe that God punishes as abundantly as he blesses? Being able to know why stuff is happening to you would be the best personal revelation ever, IMHO.

  33. a random John says:

    Steve,

    Wouldn’t knowing why stuff happens to you partially defeat the purpose of the stuff that is happening to you? I can certainly see that if Job knew the about the little bet that God and Satan had going that things would have been easier. Of course I don’t believe that aspect of the Job story. The whole thing reads more like a play than scripture.

    Again, this discussion assumes that there is a purpose. I think that for the most part the rain falls on the good and the bad as I said above.

  34. Steve,

    First, let me say I know what you’re going through and it’s a bitch. I offer my sympathy.

    I’d add a number four to your list which is that it’s another opportunity. I know when you’ve had the carpet pulled out from under you this kind of Panglossian, glass-is-half-full b.s. is be the last thing you want to hear.

    Still though, something better can be right around the corner. God may have a better blessing teetering on the sill of the window of heaven right now. Thing is you have to be ready to catch it when it comes fluttering down, so be ready for it.

    I don’t want to get all motivational speaker on you, but as someone who’s lived in a state of chronic unemployment much of his adult life and who’s interviewed for hundreds of dream jobs the day may come when you’ll be thanking God that good thing didn’t happen to you.

    Respect,

    BG

  35. Tom Manney says:

    When I face trials, my tendency is to throw tantrums and complain that life is cruel and God cannot be depended on to help me, since he could have prevented the trial in the first place, and he could end it now with the snap of a finger. At the very least, I impudently bargain, God could at least tell me why I’m in so much pain.

    But he rarely does. I am convinced that God’s purposes are usually better served by keeping us in ignorance with respect to understanding the causes of our trials. This life is a test of faith — hence, the veil. Faith is not learned by knowing exactly what God has in mind, but by trusting him despite not knowing. And the greater the stakes, the better the test of faith/trust/loyalty/love. So what often seems to me like cruelty on God’s part (“I know, Heavenly Father, that you can make this better, and surely a benevolent deity wouldn’t want his child to suffer like this …”) is actually the work of an all-knowing father who is raising me better than I would raise myself.

    Or perhaps I’m just to immature to understand my trials. Perhaps God has explained himself already and I’m just not listening. My kids don’t believe candy is bad for them and assume that caprice or cruelty prompts me to restrict their consumption of all things sugared. So it seems safe to assume that I, a foolish mortal, am just as blind when my Father in Heaven intervenes to protect me from the pitfalls I cannot see. I’ve just got to trust Him that he knows better, and that if it’s in my best interest to understand why I’m being tried, then maybe he’ll tell me — but that’s no guarantee that I’ll be spiritually attuned enough to hear the answer or mature enough to understand it.

  36. Daniel the Burnt Sienna says:

    Steve, you definitely are being punished for your sins. Righteousness is like a pillar that supports all Big Opportunities, so when they fall, you know what that means? That’s right: you lack righteousness.
    This is definitely all about your sins; how about if you just take that fact and wallow in it for a while…

  37. Aaron Brown says:

    Steve,

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but is it what I think it is? Hope not. In any event, I still remember vividly a missed employment opportunity from a couple years back. I interviewed for a position on a whim at a small firm, and found when I arrived that the position was a unique, 33% attorney/66% public policy position that focused on a bizarre niche of the law that TOTALLY interested me. I never thought I’d find something so interesting. I interviewed for it through several rounds, came very, very close to getting it, and then at the last minute, was told that funding for the position had been yanked and no position was available. To this day, I wonder if that was really true, or if they just decided they didn’t like me in the end. I was crushed, and am actually still a little bitter about it. However, if I had gotten and taken the position, I probably wouldn’t have moved up to Seattle in January, which proved to be a very important move for me.

    (Brian G will remember how badly I wanted this job, as he and I talked about it that time at SeaWorld.)

    The moral of the story probably is that missed opportunities really may turn into better opportunities down the road. Then again, maybe it’s just that sh*t happens, life is random, etc. etc. I just don’t know.

    Aaron B

  38. Yeah, AB, it’s what you think. :(

    But it’s weird: are we really not supposed to know why these bad things happen? Will we really look back and see the single set of footprints in the sand?

  39. Cathleen says:

    I’m not sure that we do — although I do think that you can reach a point where you can say, Here I am, this is my life, and even if it’s not necessarily what I oroginally wanted, it’s still okay. That said, I still carry a certain amount of disappointment from a situation that I suspect was very similar to yours, that happened a good six years ago.

  40. Cathleen says:

    I’m not sure that we do — although I do think that you can reach a point where you can say, Here I am, this is my life, and even if it’s not necessarily what I oroginally wanted, it’s still okay. That said, I still carry a certain amount of disappointment from a situation that I suspect was very similar to yours, that happened a good six years ago.

  41. My life’s biggest disappointment, which rendered me miserable for a year, I now consider one of the best things that ever happened to me. My life’s second biggest disappointment, which left me questioning what I would do with my life was, a stroke of good fortune. My life’s third biggest disappointment is still a disappointment, but I’ve moved on.

    How much God cared about any of these events I don’t really know. He doesn’t seem to be in the punishment business when he can avoid it, but it’s hard to tell how active he is in the rewards department as well. I have found that cultivating a sense of perspective is useful.

  42. I forget the term (fundamental assignment error or something like that) that covers the idea that we tend to credit internal forces (my attitude, my skills, my relationship with God) when good things happen to us and external forces (God’s reaction to my sins, the interviewer’s attitude, my boss’lack of understanding) when bad things happen.

    I’m with john fowles on this one; I don’t think God is up there playing chess with us. I think he’s much more interested in how we handle the inevitable-in-mortality ups and downs rather than throwing deliberate obstacles in our path, Job not withstanding.

  43. Seth Rogers says:

    I think we forget who is asking the questions here.

    Like most people, we tend to question bad things. We try to make some sense of the world.

    “Oh, my tire must have gotten a flat to prevent me from getting broadsided by a truck later.”

    “You aren’t married yet? Are you sure you’re not just being too picky?”

    “My son is dead, but I’m sure God needed him to preach the Gospel on the other side.”

    I think we expect that when we get to heaven everything will be explained to us and we’ll see how it all fits.

    Maybe. But it seems more like daydreaming to me. It doesn’t solve anything NOW.

    Dennis Rasmussen wrote a wonderful little book called “The Lord’s Question.” It states:

    “There is another tradition even older that makes a different claim. It asserts that man is born into the world with a question and that he lives his life with a question, but it is not man’s question. On this view man is not primarily a being who questions but a being who is questioned. The question addressed to man persists, harder than stone, softer than snow, more insisten than the warmth of the sun. “Where art thou?” Man is distinguished not by his power to ask but by his power to hear. The question with which he lives is not his own but God’s.”

    The book then states:

    “To most questions man wants to have an answer. But to the Lord’s question man must BE an answer. From man God does not need information. Man’s response must be man’s own self.”

    Again, I repeat. We forget who is asking the questions here.

  44. Interesting comment, Seth. That’s tough to swallow, but it makes a lot of sense.

  45. SeptimusH says:

    Why does everyone dismiss #1 so easily? You can’t believe God indirectly blesses you for being a good person and deny he punishes us indirectly for doing wrong. I’m here to tell you it happens.

    So Steve, don’t take this the wrong way, but for all I know, you got what you deserved.

  46. Seth Rogers says:

    I think we know when God is punishing us. So I’d imagine that if you’re uncertain why something is happening to you, it probably isn’t option #1.

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