“What did I do to deserve this?”
“Is God punishing me for some sin that I committed?”
“I must have done something wrong, that’s why this is happening to me.”
“God must be angry with me, that’s why I have this illness.”
As a priest, people have asked me these questions and made these statements to me over the years. I’ve always had one clear response: God is not punishing you for your sins.
The psalmist tells us, “He has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our wrongs deserve” (Psalm 103:10).
If you are experiencing an illness or going through tremendous difficulties, it is not because God is getting back at you for some slip in your moral life. It is, quite frankly, part of the human condition. The important question, however, is how do we react to these difficulties?
Jesus addresses this dilemma in Sunday’s Gospel. “Some people told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!’ ”
In other words, neither the Galileans nor the victims of the tower accident merited death because of their personal sins. They were no guiltier than any one else. God does not delight in death (Ezekiel 18:32); he does not take pleasure in our suffering. Yet, because of original sin, death and suffering are part of life. We may not always have control over the bad things that happen to us, but the one thing we do have control over is how we react to those situations. As a friend of mine once said, when bad things happen to us we can choose to become bitter or better.
If we are tempted to think that God is punishing us or that we’ve done something wrong to deserve difficulties, it would be helpful for us to meditate on this Sunday’s psalm response: “The Lord is kind and merciful.” God is always loving and always merciful. He wants us to always focus on his love for us, not on the wrong we’ve done.
So if you’re experiencing difficulties, believe that God isn’t punishing you, but he may be allowing the situation to strengthen you in virtue. The way you react to it, however, is up to you.
Father Michael Najim is Spiritual Director of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, Providence, as well as Catholic Chaplain at LaSalle Academy, Providence.