The widow of Zeraphath has it right, even if she does not draw the right conclusion. What she suffers — in this case, the death of her son — is a reminder of her sin, and of the calamity that she and all of the children of men deserve. The same is true for you, as well.
What you suffer in this life on earth is not always a consequence of your own sin, but it often is, and it is a dicey game for you to excuse yourself. In any event, what you suffer is a reminder of your sins, and a call to repentance for your sins, for which you are accountable. Not only for that which you inherited from Adam, but for that which you have contributed from the start.
It’s not simply a matter of this or that naughty thing that you have done. God does not sit up in heaven with a checklist of bad boys and girls, like a hall monitor taking names and keeping score and punishing people when they accumulate too many demerits. But the Lord your God, who has become your Father in Christ Jesus, does discipline you and all His children in love. He teaches you right from wrong, and He calls you to repentance for your sins. And as He has subjected the creation to the curse in the hope of His Redemption, so does He confront your sin for the sake of saving you from it. He does not overlook it, but He deals with it, and He does away with it.
What you suffer in this body and life is but a little taste of the mortality that sin has brought upon all of mankind. Your sickness and all of your other suffering, and the death that seizes your loved ones, even as it lays hold of your flesh and blood, are constant reminders that sin separates you from God and cuts you off from His Life. It has brought death and damnation upon you.
Of course, it is true that, as a Christian, baptized into Christ, you also bear and suffer the Cross — as Job did — not because of your sins, but because of your faithfulness and righteousness in Christ. But the Cross itself is a reminder of sin, and of your need for redemption, and of the daily death of your old Adam that God accomplishes in mercy by His Word and Holy Spirit.
Consequently, it is no less a mark and manifestation of your sin, and of your unbelief, which is the root of all your sin, when you respond to suffering and death with despair, as though there were no God in heaven or on earth. As though He were not your Savior from sin and death. As though He did not love you and did not want every good thing for you, but rather that He sought to punish you forever. Dear child of God, that is not the case. His anger is momentary, His favor forever.
Do not throw up your hands in hopeless resignation. Do not despair. Rather, when you see the evidence of your sin, and when you are being put to death by the world or by the Cross, repent.
Repent of your sin. Repent of your unbelief, of your negligence and bad behavior, and of your doubt and despair. Do not give up hope, but do give up your vices, your reliance on false gods, and your pursuit of that which does not last and cannot give you life.
And being turned away from sin and death, bring repentance to completion by trusting Christ, your Savior from sin. Live by faith in Him, by His grace, and not by your own self-righteousness. Pray, praise, and gave thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ, no matter what the circumstances, though His presence is hidden under the Cross and His help is mysterious and elusive to your senses.
Do not believe your experience or fickle feelings, but believe and trust His holy Word. Know that He who has given His life for you loves you. He will not abandon you or fail you in your need. He hears and answers your prayer. Indeed, He has mercy and compassion for you, even before you begin to pray, and even when you have failed to pray as you should.
The dear Lord Jesus takes every initiative in coming to you, in coming to save you from sin and death, from the devil and hell. He acts on your behalf in love. Not because you have asked Him. Not because you deserve it. But solely for the sake of His divine and holy love.
He visits His people in mercy. He comes to rescue you. Already in His Incarnation, in His Life and Ministry, from His Baptism to His death on the Cross, He moves through the land soaking up sin and death and infirmity of every kind, and taking all of it upon Himself. He deals with it once and for all upon His Cross. He deals with your sin and its consequences there, too.
So does He come to visit you now in the Ministry of His Gospel, in His Means of Grace. He reaches out His hand to lay hold of you, to raise you up from death, to heal you and cleanse you, and to breathe new life into your body and soul through His forgiveness of all your sins.
For the sake of His Cross and in His own bodily Resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus answers your prayers and pours out His Holy Spirit, all His grace, and every blessing upon you.
Consider how often your sickness does not end in death. Consider the surgeries that you have survived, the accidents that have not killed you, but from which you have walked away. Consider how often you have been spared financial ruin, and defended against fire and flood and other threats to your body and life. Think of how graciously the Lord provides you with daily bread, with all that you need, so that you have not gone hungry and starved; so that you have not gone naked in the street. You have a roof over your heard. You have family. You have friends.
You have the Church, the household and family of God, in which you live, to which you belong: Not a widow or an orphan, but a member of the Bride of Christ and a beloved child of His God and Father in heaven. Here you are surrounded and supported by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
And all of that is well and good, for which it is your duty to give all thanks and praise to God.
But there are some nagging questions to consider, as well. For what should you think or say about those things that you do still suffer? And what about all those earnest, heartfelt prayers that appear to go unanswered? Or all those times when the answer is evidently no? Or, again, what about those times when you are faithless and unbelieving, when you despair of any hope, despite the gracious Word and promises of God, and you fail to pray at all?
It would seem that sin and death still reign within your heart and mind and mortal flesh, calling the shots, even where you know better, and causing all manner of havoc within your body and life.
Everywhere you look, in every nook and cranny of your life, there are examples and evidence of sin and the always encroaching mortality of this fallen and perishing world, creeping, crawling, and sometimes charging forward into death.
And all the while, it is too often the case that, in your heart and life, and in your words and actions, you do not fear, love, and trust in God, nor love your neighbor as you should. Instead, you are doubtful, anxious and afraid, selfish and self-serving.
Or, why is it that you do not care for your neighbor and help him in his hurt and in his needs?
You question and complain when God does not seem to be helping you in all the ways that you want Him to act, and yet your neighbor also goes hungry, your neighbor also has hurts and fears. You do some things for some of your neighbors, but you do not do all that you can.
You wonder why you are not helped. But why do you not help others? Why do you not live by faith in your Savior? Why do your actions not confess the Word and promises of God?
What is your hope and confidence to be, when your whole life is filled with evidence contrary to the Gospel? To what shall you cling, and on what shall you depend, against all the wrack and ruin in your life and all the sin and death inside of you, from which you cannot set yourself free?
There is only one Answer: It is Christ Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead. In His death upon the Cross He took the entire curse of sin upon Himself. He there suffered all of its consequences. He endured the righteous wrath and judgment of God against the sins of the whole world. And by His death, He put down death and the devil for good; for His Sacrifice and His Blood have made full Atonement and Propitiation for all sins from the fall of Adam to the close of the Age.
His Resurrection from the dead is the manifestation of His Victory over sin. It is the Lord’s open declaration of forgiveness, reconciliation, and life in the face of death. He has done it all. Your own works do not avail for you before God, but His works and His Righteousness do.
It was a strange and dreadful fight when life and death contended on the Cross of Christ. But the Victory belongs to Life in His crucified and risen Body. The reign of death is ended. It is ended in Christ. It is ended in Him for you, and for all who believe and are baptized into Him.
All of your sins have been forgiven, and in place of death His own divine, eternal Life is given to you. For He visits you with His Life in the preaching of His Gospel, in His Word of Absolution, and in the administration of His Sacraments: in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism, and in the Meal of His own holy Body and precious Blood, which He places into your mortal body so that death cannot claim you and cannot have you forever.
He has defeated death, and His defeat of death is yours, as surely as He raised the widow’s son.
It is true that you cannot yet see it, and you often do not experience it. After all, the graves and coffins of your family, friends, and loved ones are not yet emptied of their bodies, except as they return to dust over time. Your son or daughter is not given back to you from death and the grave. Your departed wife or husband is not restored to you in this life on earth.
Your experience of the world is constantly screaming that the hope and promise of the Gospel are not true. That the Resurrection and the Life are a fairy tale and a lie. That the Body and Blood of Christ are not real and of no benefit or comfort against the onslaught of sin and death.
But the Gospel is true, and all its promises are true. Your God and Father does not lie to you. Your dear Lord Jesus Christ is your Savior and your Friend. What He speaks is the Truth. What He says, He does. Your sins are forgiven, and you are set free. Despite what you see and feel and experience, it is no less true, no less sure and certain than God Himself is true. Indeed, it is as absolute, eternal, and indestructible as the risen and glorified Body of Christ the Lord.
By His death upon the Cross, sin is forgiven. And as He forgives your sins, so does He give you His Life and Salvation. Your Lord has atoned for you. Therefore, death and the devil no longer have any power over you. They cannot lawfully accuse you. They cannot destroy you. Even when you die, yet shall you live. The Lord Jesus has arisen, and so shall you rise and live with Him.
Arise, therefore, and live. For God the Lord has visited His people with grace, mercy, and peace. So does He visit you here and now in this place, and so shall He be with you forever and always.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.