I believe that the Bible does not teach that all trouble is a sign of punishment. As a matter of fact, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When trouble does come our way, it’s good to examine our lives to see if there is an offense against God in our lives (see Ps. 139:24). While God often chastens those He loves, it certainly is not punishment, but He disciplines us as a way of changing our conduct (see John 15:2). God warned Israel many times that their conduct was an embarrassment to Him before the other nations, and they would be punished. Israel’s exile to Babylon was an example of a horrific judgment on God’s chosen people.
Scripture gives us other examples of trouble and suffering, however. Job was a righteous, faithful man who experienced tremendous, heartbreaking trouble. In the book of Acts, the disciples suffered greatly because they were faithful to Christ. After being flogged for testifying about Jesus, “the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Clearly this trouble was not a punishment from God! It will take wisdom and sensitivity to the conviction of the Holy Spirit for us to know the difference between His discipline in our lives and other reasons why we experience sorrow and trials.