This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
The argument up to this point has been that we are to resist all suffering by taking precautions both ordinary and extraordinary. Our use of measures–such as pain-killing drugs–is only sinful if our intent is wrong–say, taking those drugs for fun rather than for help.
“…the principle rule in its essence [is] we must fight against all suffering, and suffering that can be prevented must be averted by precautionary measures.” (598-599)
Here, Kuyper focuses on the “punishing and judgmental character of suffering.” (599) We naturally tend to assume that someone who suffers deserves it, and their resistance to that suffering is therefore wrong. We draw this conclusion from the fact that our resistance to legitimate authority is wrong (as we should not resist the police when they’re giving us a traffic ticket, for example). This might mean that we wrongly suffer at times, but it is not a 1 to 1 parallel. Government certainly can be wrong–and it gets more wrong (“wronger”?) as it gets more personal. But God cannot be wrong, and cannot be resisted in any case. God will do what He will and we can’t stop him.
Another reason the parallel doesn’t exactly work is that God’s punishments are provisional, until the final judgment this deferral of final punishment is a function of common grace. So even in “suffering and misery” there is a grace. Grace works in every bit of suffering by restraining its full force in this world. We must not ignore either aspect: judgment and sanctifying grace are both at work–for the Christian the latter alone will remain. So we should never see punishment in suffering, only chastisement because of what Christ has done on the cross. Though we may backslide or sin, we must “rebuke our unbelief” when we think of suffering as punishment.
Nor should the pulpit teach this during national disasters–though give the events of the Old Testament such preaching is a reasonable mistake. (Though even in the Old Testament believers are not being punished.) Instead these circumstances become joyful opportunities for us to serve others. “And when we ask how this can be explained, the answer lies in the fact that suffering for the sake of sin does not revolve around the individual but the community–that is, the many, the human race collectively.” (603)
Obviously there are personal consequences of sin–but still the effects are broad and involve others as well. We must not directly connect sin and suffering in the way we naturally tend to assume because suffering touches all things, believer and unbeliever alike, (maybe even sin touches believers more, since we give up some of the ‘fun’ sins).