PARADOXICAL

The faith chronicles

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

Punishment


A lot of people have a problem with the idea of a punishing God. For me, it has always made perfect sense, no matter how I resent God for His punishments. It made perfect sense that a perfect entity like God should do as He pleases with his creation. It made perfect sense that His goodness is not to be offended if we are to seek His favor. It made sense that He is angered by evil because that’s all He is - goodness and love.

This does not contradict the fact that God is love. This does not run opposite to the Biblical passage that He loved us not because we loved Him first but that He loved us first, even while we are still sinners. This passage doesn’t mean a preclusion of pain and suffering in the life of the beloved. This line does not preclude punishment.

In the face of a loving God, punishment is even held as redemptive, purgative, a kind of justice tempered with mercy, chastisement carried out of love.

Yet punishment is never viewed as such when one is in the middle of it. When one is in pain, it is hard, even impossible, to feel God’s love.

When I am in pain and I take it as God’s punishment for an evil deed I have done, I am always sobered by the thought that I deserved it. God is love but He is also just. He only delivers what needs to done, for His name’s sake. But of course, I’m only human to ask why, Lord, why me, why now, why, why? But at the back of my mind, I am consoled that God punishes only those whom He loves, that even now, I am already purging, expiating, atoning for my sins, thank God He has impressed that upon me lest I surprise myself atoning for everything…in hell.

I am left cold whenever the reality of punishment, especially eternal damnation is downplayed by the very religious people. I find nothing wrong about playing up the image of God as a loving Father, but I have a quibble about this God-is-love-only PR campaign because it means missing out on the important subject of punishment. It is wimpy to not face the ugly reality of sin and wrongdoing and all its appalling consequences. This avoidance is a sugar-coated, watered-down version of Christianity, when the truth is, the realities of sin, Satan and evil spirits are so inescapable and immediate.

I agree that everything in the end - with God’s benediction, comes off as something good. But if we can avoid committing tremendous mistakes, why not? I agree that every thorn is transformed by God as a crown, every burden becomes a blessing, in God’s time, but if we can learn our lessons in life early on, why on earth not? Why do we have to tease and tempt God when we know He won’t spare the rod?

And why do we hesitate to talk about God’s discipline? Why do we crumple and shrink in the face of a subject as grueling as divine wrath? Punishments, discipline, chastisements are even blunted and softened as ‘trials’ as though we are always being tested for something. Why not call such times ‘moments of purification’ instead, the times we are being disciplined by an angry God, the times we are being purged of our past sins?

Of course, there’s such a thing as Job, the suffering of a just man, a prefigurement of Christ’s suffering, the sacrifice lamb. If this is the kind of suffering one is going through, then glory to God!

But why is there suffering at all? Isn’t it because sin came into the world? The point is, even Job’s trials and tribulations may be a request from the devil, not from God. If God is a loving God, then He won’t contemplate such an aggravation on His beloved, will he? If so, then suffering can only be a consequence of evil, of sin - ours, if not of others. Most of suffering can only be punishment - punishment we have caused upon ourselves and others, thanks to the devil’s lobbying effort, and not willed by God.

The point being pursued here is: We can’t afford to ignore the reality that God punishes. One may read that in the Psalms and the Old Testament. Shudder at how God punishes and blesses His people - He does so for seven generations. Indeed, if there’s anything and anyone to fear, we must fear only Him who has the power to cast souls to Gehenna.

If I am being unduly alarmed about this soft attitude toward adversity, it is because the enemy does not tire of setting his traps. It is because someone is always on the lookout for our slightest chance fall. I remember A.V. who was always criticized for being harsh whenever he confronted or talked about sin and wrongdoing. He told me, almost in protest, “But how else do you deal with the devil? The devil is malicious.”

Moreover, focusing on the ‘nice’ things about God breeds not just familiarity with God’s love but the danger of taking Him for granted. Undue softness leads to dangerous compromise. Fortunately God has a way of waking up an abusive people: He tends to perform astounding miracles, if only to correct what is crooked and needs to be straightened out.

7.5.2002


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