I received emails from two readers who confessed that they sinned so much that they were punished by God.
Xiao Cao, a college graduate in human resource management, was supposed to find a job after she left school in 2020. Last year, she began to counsel some senior fellows and prepare certificates and resumes for a future job. However, the coronavirus broke out early this year, which totally interrupted her plan. Expecting to daily attend recruitment fairs, she could just send out her resumes online. Not trusting the online platforms, she immediately hit rock bottom. Although she applied to a company she had been longing for, there was no reply. What was worse, few companies replied to her as the virus led to an economic downturn.
As a third-generation Christian, she was raised in a “devout” environment where she formed the habit of praying for everything and always repenting of her faults. When she told her mother the sad news, she said it was a result of sin. It was God’s punishment for sin committed by her or her family. So she advised the whole family to pray for Cao that she would find work and to repent. Since that day, Cao has been repenting from her sins and praying every day, even praying with tears. But it hasn’t work out. The resumes remained unanswered. This raised the question: was her repentance not honest enough to be forgiven, or did God abandon her due to her sins?
Xiao Zhang is a young man full of sunshine. After graduation from university, he started to work in a foreign company. He is reliable in his work, relationships, and he is also good-looking. One year later, he had a relationship with a colleague. Their emotional connections grew deeper. His parents urged them to get married, so Zhang decided to get married soon.
While he was wondering how to propose, he received a break-up message from her. She didn’t explain much, but said that she had resigned from her job, and returned to her hometown in northeastern China. Zhang was certain that he made a mistake that had cost him this relationship, so he felt like he needed to ask for repentance. He thought of himself as a person with moral problems because there were times when he had wanted to sleep with his girlfriend. He viewed himself as impure and dirty. He believed that this is why God punished him by taking away his what he loved most and was commanding him to repent.
Despite his remorse and genuine repentance, the guilt caused by the breakup haunted him and even affected his work. He asked whether his repentance was not godly enough or whether he had not give himself completely to God.
I believe that their problems were not from God, but came from their misunderstanding of God and themselves. Vigilance and repentance are necessary for Christians. We are to guard against the devil’s work, but it is wrong to repent for everything. The purpose of repentance is to experience the forgiveness of sins. If we repent to excess, it brings sins on us.
The obstacles in Cao’s life that hindered her from finding a job were not a result of her sin. She couldn’t find a job because of economic and social factors that were not under her control. Obviously, there was a deeper reason for her frustration. But the two setbacks made Cao and Zhang lose the ability to make rational judgments. They attacked themselves and the feeling that they needed to repent magnified the problem.
In addition, our misunderstanding of God contributes to not understanding where our repentance needs to be focused. The God Jesus reveals is a God of mercy. He loved his people, so he sent his only son Jesus to be incarnate and be crucified. But for many traditional churches, they view God as someone who likes punishment, who easily gets angry and never tolerates errors.
In the follow up with Cao, we analyzed the reasons why she felt and reacted as she did. Then she and I both agreed on her advantages, including fairly grounded professionalism, rich experience, and good grades. We concluded that the setback she experienced was not caused by herself, but a result of conditions in the larger environment in which we are now living.
I encouraged her to change her attitude and be prepared for the next opportunity. Eventually, she was hired by a big company.
I also advised Zhang to explore the real reason behind the breakup. After many inquiries, he finally learned the reason was that his ex-girlfriend intended to look after her parents who claimed that they were suffering from a disease. They didn’t want their daughter to marry an outsider, so they used this as an excuse to have her return to her hometown. To avoid making her boyfriend feel too sad and to avoid letting him know she was very dependent on her parents, she left without saying goodbye.
Feeling relieved, he stopped thinking of himself as someone who was sinning through his thought life. After he cleared out his future plan, she agreed to talk with her parents again. Currently, Zhang is working at saving his relationship with his girlfriend.
- Translated by Karen Luo