What does it mean to say that God is punishing someone for something? I see this in two different ways. The first is what I might call the naturalist’s view; you know, things your mother probably told you: If you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll get sick. If you spend your time disobeying the rules, you’ll die. To the naturalist, these are simply the laws of the universe, like gravity. To a religious person, since God created the natural world, these are God’s laws.
The second sort of punishment is personal. By this I don’t mean personally directed at you, though it might be, I mean personally communicated to you by God. So, if you say something like, “God is punishing that person for doing that thing,” then I assume that God told you that. If He didn’t tell you that and you say that He did, you’d be guilty of a rather profane act and could find yourself on the receiving end of some punishment of your own. A more subtle version of this is when someone says, “I believe God is punishing that person for doing that thing.” They’re not claiming the God talked to them, they’re just offering a personal opinion. For example, I sometimes think that the Civil War in the US was God’s punishment for the sin of slavery. I don’t know this to be true as God has not contacted me on this matter. I’ll let you know if He does. How do I come to this conclusion? It’s just a general idea shared by some folks who read Lincoln’s thoughts. It’s just an opinion of mine, I would never say that I know it to be true.
But sometimes, especially when it involves something personal, you know God is communicating to you. One of things that God is particularly sensitive to is when we “covet” something or someone. God warns us that only He is good and we are to worship no other. In a general way, we could say that this is the root of many ills. For example, a drug addict is coveting or worshiping something that is against the rules. It could be the drug itself, or a any one of a host of other things. Social ills are many indeed, but the God-shaped hole inside us all is at the root of all of them.
You might think that a fine upstanding Christian guy like myself would have all this down. You’d be wrong. God has a song that he wants you to sing. If you can’t or won’t sing it, someone else will.