“I don’t want to attribute what is good with being evil, evil with being good, or nothing with being anything that is outside of God’s will.”
The reason I think this is important is because often I perceive some of us making the mistake of assuming too much. You and I don’t have the authority to attribute a natural disaster to the wrath of God on a select group of people. We don’t have the authority to assume that because someone is experiencing some level of suffering that God has placed a judgment upon that person based on their sinful behavior.
Haven’t we learned from the story of Job?
Job was a man who feared God. He was blameless, upright, and turned away from evil. (Job 1:8, Job 2:3) Yet, we can see that God allowed for him to be exposed to what has come to be known as the “refiner’s fire”. God allowed the devil to do harm to Job’s property, family, and even his person was subject to boils. His friends doubted him, and wondered if there had been elements of iniquity in Job’s life they may might have been unaware of. (Job 4:7-8). Even his wife was nagging him in some of his toughest moments! (Job 2:9). She encouraged him to “Curse God and die!” after questioning why he maintained his integrity.
If a man of God like Job was exposed to this, we have no precedent for judging other believers or non-believers in regards to why or why not they have been fighting specific trials in their lives. Job was allowed to be tested for the delight and glory of God, and after all the difficulty Job’s latter days were blessed even more than his beginning according to Job 42:
“12 Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch. 15 In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. 17 So Job died, old and full of days.”
Job 42:12-17 (NKJV).
In John 9 we read about when Jesus Christ healed a blind man. The disciples asked him in verse 2 :
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. 4 I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
John 9:2-5 (NKJV).
The intuitive response of the disciples was the same as what you or I in that scenario may have arrived. If this man has been born blind, surely we must come to think that this calamity came upon him because of some aspect of sin in his life. This was not so, and it’s clear later he was also judged and casted out by the Pharisees, however Jesus Christ had come to know of his being casted out, and assured him that He was indeed the Lord. Jesus Christ also explained to the Pharisees who could see that they still saw, but if they were blind they wouldn’t have any sin. Yet since they still saw, that their sin remained. [John 9:35-41]. The Pharisees casted broad brush strokes in hypocritical judgment, but we know that God’s plan was, is, and will always be righteous.
Are we then to consider judgement in other circumstances?
While we want to exercise prudent, cautious judgment in regards to restoring brothers and sisters in Christ, we want to be careful not to over-extend our liberties. We want to bring into God’s kingdom gently, lovingly, with tactful discretion. With the intent to build up and not tear down, carefully and perhaps even infrequently providing constructive criticism. On that same token, we don’t want to operate under faulty premises, and elevate our opinion above the point which bears merit. If we have someone’s best intentions, genuinely love them, and have knowledge of the situation at hand; in such a case we are qualified to give them sound rebuke. If we have a strong relationship with that person, we may be in a position that is even better suited to offer it. Offering it in a manner that we will deliver what they will perceive to be sound instruction and not merely a spirit of criticism.
We neither want to offer hypocritical judgment. If I want to help someone in an area where I also struggle, I want to be transparent with the shared battle that I also fight. I don’t want to sound like I am operating from the viewpoint of self-righteousness or hypocrisy, when I know I need God’s grace just as much, if not more, than they do.
I tend to be quite blunt and politically incorrect, so for me to balance this aspect of my character with gentleness, humility, and tactful respect takes deliberate intention. To consider someone else’s position, empathize with their plight properly, and deliver advice that would help them takes effort. In my experience it’s often best to be unafraid of ostracizing your friend for a time, if it means that what you tell them will be in their long-term best interests. This especially rings true as it pertains to evangelism, as I rather my friend be exposed to the truth and run away from me, than for me to allow them to perish without knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior.