God certainly has a reason for anything of significance that he allows in our lives, and he has our “best interests” at heart. However, have you ever wonder about the role of sin in all these transactions. Are some things that have happened are just “punishment,” plain and simple? So what does it mean when John Ronald Reuel Tolkien said “What punishments of God are not gifts”
No matter how successful you are you have to endure pain. Even the happiest and the best-adjusted person sometimes feels sorry for themselves. In October of 1958, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a letter to a Miss Beare who had questions about “The Lord of the Rings.” Writing about the immortality of Elves and mortality of Men, Tolkien says,
“A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is the ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained”. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)
The loss of a father, or mother, or brother, or child is not acceptable. We would never want it or ask it. But it’s a gift from the god that we never accept. This gift from God can bring about a greater good, and ultimate blessing we would not have enjoyed without having to feel the pain and heartache.
This is what Stephen Colbert has said after the death of his father and brother –
“I don’t want it to have happened. I want it to not have happened, but if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do, not everybody is–and I am not always–but it’s the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it.
You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.
So, what do you get from loss? You get the awareness of other people’s loss, which allows you to connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it’s like to be a human being if it’s true that all humans suffer.”
The Meaning Of Pain
The English word pain comes from the Latin poena, meaning “penalty, retribution”. Indeed, especially in Christianity, the pain was traditionally understood as a kind of punishment for a person’s sins or the sins of their ancestors. This understanding of pain comes from the Biblical story of Genesis, in which the pain of childbirth and hard work were inflicted as a punishment for Adam and Eve’s first sin, their disobedience against God.
What Does God Say About Punishment?
This is the opinion of Stephen Colbert about the punishment of God –
“In my tradition, that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ, is that God does it too, that you’re really not alone. God does it too.”
So regardless of what Stephen Colbert and J. R. R. Tolkien said about punishment what does God say about the pain, suffering, and loss we all inevitably experience? The prophet Hosea declares,
“Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:5–6).
So it’s clear that if there is no pain and suffering then we won’t understand the value of fatherly love. Whoever God loves, he disciplines, without exception. He chastises every child he receives. Therefore, for those who love God, all our pain comes through his loving hands to lead us to deeper reservoirs of joy.
J.C. Ryle writes – “There is nothing which shows our ignorance so much as our impatience under trouble. We forget that every cross is a message from God, intended to do us good in the end. Trials are intended to make us think — to wean us from the world — to send us to the Bible — to drive us to our knees. Health is a good thing, but sickness is far better if it leads us to God. Prosperity is a great mercy, but adversity is a greater one if it brings us to Christ. Anything, anything is better than living in indifference and dying in sin.” (Matthew, 130–131)