She sits on the couch in my counseling office and pulls at a stray thread as she talks. She tells me how life has been hard lately. She recently lost her job. The doctor found a suspicious lump. A few days ago, a car backed into hers in the parking lot of a grocery store, denting her bumper and her hope. She looks at me and asks a simple yet complicated question: “What am I doing wrong?”
I nod in understanding, because it’s not the first time I’ve heard this inquiry. I asked the same question at times during our journey through infertility. When life goes sideways, we want to find an explanation—and the closest one at hand is, “It must be me.” But that’s a lie, a stress-causer, and a peace-stealer. Jesus said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows” (John 16:33). Why? Because all is not as it should be. We live suspended between Eden and eternity. All is not yet well.
The enemy of our hearts would love for us to believe that when “bad” things happen, we’re being punished.
But [Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa. 53:5 NIV)
Part of the miracle of the gospel is that Jesus took our punishment for us. It matters that we know this, because otherwise we’re tempted to see God as a slightly menacing figure with a lightning bolt in his hand, ready to throw it our way as soon as we do wrong. John said, “If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love” (1 John 4:18). Paul declared, “How much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom. 5:9 NIV).
Yes, we experience God’s discipline, but discipline is different from punishment. Discipline comes from a place of love, not anger. As in parenting, it means letting someone experience the consequence of their action. If someone shows up to work high on drugs, then he’ll lose his job. If someone yells at her spouse, then distance will grow in that relationship. That’s not punishment; it’s experiencing the natural consequence of a choice.
Sometimes because we live in a fallen, broken world, we’re also impacted by other people’s actions. The drunk driver runs the red light. The chemicals leak from the factory and contaminate our water. The economy falters, leading to layoffs. This doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong; it means all has not yet been made right.
Thinking about all that can go wrong in this world makes me want to find a safe place to hide. You too? If so, there’s good news. The love of God is the safe haven we can run to when life gets hard.
That’s why it matters so much that we don’t believe he’s punishing us. If we do, we’ll distance ourselves when we need him most. The state of the world, the brokenness of our lives, the reality of death, and the losses we endure grieve God’s heart too. He is in our hard times with us. He is forever for us. We serve a God not of lightning bolts but of love, not of meanness but of mercy, not of punishment but of peace.
God, thank you that I don’t have to fear punishment because of what Jesus did on the cross. When hard things happen in my life, help me not to ask, “What am I doing wrong?” but instead remember what Jesus has done for me. You love me, you’re for me, and you will make all things right in the end. Amen.
Idea for Reflection
If you ever ask, “What am I doing wrong?” pause to remember what Jesus has done for you instead.
My new devotional released this week! If you want to live with more peace and less pressure, more calm and less chaos, more worship and less worry—What Your Soul Needs for Stressful Times is for you.
More for You
Is self-care essential or selfish? We tackle this question today on More Than Small Talk to help you (and us) stay filled up so we can pour out, especially in a season that’s asking a lot of us.