Reward & Punishment

How do we know when and if G-d is punishing us?

B”H
One of my German blog readers asked me a couple of interesting question regarding G-d punishing humans:

 

1. How do we know when G-d is punishing us?
2. When someone is sick, is the sickness automatically considered to be a G-dly punishment?
3. And if the sickness is a punishment, are we allowed to go to a doctor for treatment or should we just accept the punishment?
My response:
No human knows when and whether G-d is punishing him. Of course, we may speculate and invent all kinds of theories but, in reality, only G-d knows His actions and intentions. 
Life is confronting us with a lot of positive as well as negative situations. However, why and what is happening to us – we simply don’t know. 
Yesterday I wrote that G–d is much more forgiving than we are willing to forgive ourselves. How many times are we totally upset because we did something wrong. We think that G-d would never forgive us. Many people suffer due to such kind of thoughts and they consider themselves as bad. The result may be that they abandon G-d because they don’t think that they are worthy to study Torah or pray. This could end in a religious depression and the first Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that we should avoid any kind of such a depression. What we should do instead is telling ourselves that G-d forgave us. It is impossible to lead a happy life when you constantly consider yourself as bad and unworthy.
Question 2:
An illness doesn’t necessarily mean that G-d is punishing someone. The Talmud teaches that humans are able to avoid certain sicknesses such as a cold. In order to prevent getting a cold or the flu, a person should eat a lot of vitamins and wear warm clothes. 
Not every sick person is undergoing a G-dly punishment and thus we shouldn’t look at such people as sinners. 🙂 We humans don’t have an answer to why someone is seriously ill. Once again, only G-d knows the answer. 
When a person dies, maybe this was just his time. Other people recover from an illness and may start thinking  how they can change their life into a more positive direction. Many times, an illness and the later recovery makes a person think.
Question 3:
In Judaism, it is an obligation to go to a doctor when someone is sick. One has to get professional help in order to recover.
I know that there are certain sects (the famous Witnesses?), which reject blood transfusions. In Judaism, this would be impossible because we must go and see a doctor if necessary. Even the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135 – 1214) wrote that humans are obligated to remain healthy. They should eat healthy foods and do sports. A sick person must go and see a doctor!
There are many negative situations in life when we feel like giving up. “Why should I continue” and “Nothing is making sense anyway.” I am not talking about committing suicide but about people who stop caring for anybody and anything. 
Many people don’t like to hear it but we can actually learn from positive as well as from negative situations happening in our lives. We could do Cheshbon Nefesh and start thinking what went wrong and why. Of course, when someone has something extremely positive happening to him, he won’t sit down and think about his life. He would be too busy celebrating. 🙂
The real Cheshbon Nefesh only comes when we feel sad and don’t see any solution to solve our problems. 
I don’t know for sure but I guess that I read this somewhere in the Talmud.
G-d doesn’t put us into situations we cannot cope with. 
What does that mean?
That each of us is able to find all kinds of solutions in order to solve his problems. We just have to make and effort and find these solutions. 
Illnesses, on the other hand, are something else and no one but G-d has an answer to this.
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