An African Story
A story is told of an old African man who had one son and three hundred goats. The old man deeply loved his boy and lived a simple life in the village. The son of the older man was faithful to take the three hundred goats out to pasture and to the river for water. They lived a simple life and were well respected in their village. However, one day as the boy took the goats out, he was robbed by rustlers from a neighbouring village. They stole all of the goats Mzee had, and they also injured the young boy so severely that he nearly died from loss of blood and several broken bones. It was tragic for Mzee, and many people in the village believed that God was punishing him and his son for some sins that they had done.
However, one day a militia showed up and went from house to house in the village and plundered all of the livestock everyone had. Not a single animal was left in the village. On top of that, they also kidnapped all of the young, healthy and energetic boys and girls in that village. Once the militia arrived at Mzee’s house, they found that he did not have a single goat and that his son was barely alive. The militia left the house, the boy, and insulted Mzee for being so poor. Mzee felt so low and discouraged. Everyone in the village thought that there was a curse over the village because they collectively had offended God somehow, and that is why the militia came.
Three weeks passed by, and a friend from the neighbouring village sent his son with a message to Mzee that he found his goats. Mzee was so excited that he immediately rushed there and counted all of the goats, and there were three hundred of them! Not a goat was missing. Soon after bringing all of the goats home, his young son had healed up from the broken bones and injuries he had incurred. Everyone in the village said that Mzee was blessed because God spared his boy and his goats.
This story is very familiar to us. It seems that many of us pass through difficult challenges in our lives, and we feel like Mzee in this story. We feel that we have not done anything evil, and yet we have challenges. People tell us we are sinners and that we have offended God, and that is why we’re passing through challenges. This sounds oddly familiar to Job’s friends who said he was going through his problems because he was living in sin (Job 4:7-8, Job 8:20, Job 11:14-17).
The belief that people pass through challenges because they have sinned is called the “theology of retribution.” This theology is common amongst many Christians today in our world. The theology of retribution is a belief that God sends challenges on people because they are evil, and if you have challenges, you must be evil. Some passages in scripture back this belief; for example, God judged the people of Sodom because of the evil that they had done (Genesis 19:1-29). Also, God destroyed the entire world by water during the time of Noah because of the wickedness of man (Genesis 6:5-6). So, the theology of retribution does have some scriptural backing. From my experience, most people who firmly believe in the theology of retribution/vengeance are not balanced in their views. They believe that all challenges happen because of sin and that there is no other possibility.
The New Testament furnishes us with examples where the Jews believed in the theology of retribution and had the same kind of unbalanced views. In John 9:1-12, we see that the common belief was that God only brings bad things to people who were sinners was so dominant that the disciples asked Jesus as to why this man was born blind? They asked as to who sinned and did not even consider that maybe God allowed evil to happen to him without a consequence of retribution (John 9:2). However, Jesus says that the blind man was not blind due to sins, but it was only so that God could be glorified in his life. Such a statement would have been shocking to the Jews because they gave no option for an unbalanced view of why the man sinned. Jesus himself also never sinned yet he suffered greatly on the cross for our sins (Matthew 16:21, Luke 24:46, 1 Peter 3:18). So challenges do not always come about in our lives because of some sin(s) that we have committed. Sometimes God allows trials in our lives so that our faith will be perfected; that is why we’re told to rejoice in suffering(James 1:2-4).
However, Job, for example, was considered a righteous man, yet he passed through serious challenges (Job 1:8, Job 2:3). Job had not done anything wrong to deserve God’s retribution. God put Job through challenges to bring shame to the devil. So, the theology of retribution is so true and scriptural, but it is not always the reason for our sufferings. Sometimes challenges happen simply because God is using your life to bring the devil to shame, and to bring Himself glory, and strengthen you and other believers in the faith. The devil believed that Job would curse God and disgrace his name (Job 1:9-11, Job 2:3). However, the exact opposite happened.
Why do we go through challenges?
It is difficult to give the exact reason why you’re going through a particular challenge. It could be because of some sin that you’ve done, and you’re suffering from retribution, but most likely, it is so that your faith will be perfected (James 1:2-4). Challenges are good in that they help us see that our faith is more valuable than anything else in this world (1 Peter 1:6-7). Trials are also good because they help us know that we’re genuinely saved (James 1:12, Matthew 10:22). We know we’re saved if our faith is still intact and stronger though and after a severe challenge (Matthew 13:20-21). Indeed at the time of the trial, it might not seem so to you, but people will see and most importantly God will see your dedication as he did Jobs and rebuked his friends who talked about the theology of retribution(Job 42:7).
Challenges are an excellent way for us to know where we truly stand with the Lord. Challenges help us to see our faith as more valuable than anything else in this world (1 Peter 1:6-7). Challenges also make us stronger in the Lord, and that a relationship with God is higher than anything this world could offer (Psalm 16:11).
Therefore, challenges are not a needless way to cause us to suffer; trials are there to help us get more of what we truly need and should love-God himself. That is why Peter and James told us to rejoice amid challenges (1 Peter 1:6, James 1:2-4). If you cannot find a reason to rejoice in your trial, either you need to refocus on God’s mercy (1 Peter 1:1-6), or you’re not a child of God. So which is it? How are you doing in the midst of the challenges you’re going through? Are you indeed saved? If not, click the “Receive Christ” button at the bottom of this page and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.