Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The will of the Lord alone is always carried out.
Good and evil alike take place at his command.
Why should we ever complain when we are punished for our sin?

- Lamentations 3:37-39 Good News Version

Punishment has never made sense to me.

I mean if Harry punches Tom, then that’s wrong.

But if Harry then gets punched as punishment, that’s not really making it right. That’s just doubling the wrong.

Even the argument that Harry needs to get punched in order to learn why punching people is wrong is a bit poor, because someone could just explain it to Harry in words, and then the wrong would not have to be doubled.

For the above reason, whenever I find the assertion in the Bible, or anywhere else in the world, that sin must be punished, it has never made sense to me. The most defining example would have to be Jesus’ suffering our punishment on the cross. He gets punished for us. To me, that’s really wrong. And, without wishing to offend anyone, I don’t think those - awful - hours are anywhere near enough punishment to make-up for all the billions of us that are sinners in the world, plus all those before us throughout history.

In my opinion, the temporary suffering of one cannot equal the eternal suffering of billions.

Or can two wrongs actually make a right after all?

Lamentations is a book that tells it how it is. It’s not just a book about how unbearable life is, it’s a book about how unbearable life is because God deliberately makes it happen that way.

Look, O LORD! Look at those you are torturing!
Women are eating the bodies of the children they loved!

- Lamentations 2:20a (the ironically named Good News Version)

And yet, this is all in the context of a people who are being punished. These Harrys have punched people, and have had their wrongs explained to them, but refused to learn and carried on punching people anyway.

Your prophets had nothing to tell you but lies;
Their preaching deceived you by never exposing your sin.
They made you think you did not need to repent.

- Lamentations 2:14 (Good News)

This is one side of Christianity that somehow seems to get lost in evangelism. Often God’s forgiveness seems to get presented as a magic spell that means that nothing bad will happen to Christians, or if it does, then get this – we actually say that we don’t understand why bad things happen to good people… but that God must have some reason.

No-one is good though. In turning to God, I know that I have a ton of stuff that I need to learn, and simply telling me what I’m getting wrong just doesn’t do it. I see pictures on the news of starving skeletons in bombed-out warzones, and I logically understand, but I don’t really emotionally understand it inside. Unfortunately I need to experience that to really get why it’s wrong to stand by and say/do nothing.

But that's just trite, isn't it? Everyone has bad stuff happen that appears to bear no relation whatsoever to anything we've done. I find myself crying out "WHY, God?" And maybe that's just it. Because it's shaken me up and made no sense, I suddenly go around trying to understand God and morality much more than I did before the tradgedy.

Reading the Bible, and partcularly the short book of Lamentations (5 chapters) makes a heck of a lot more sense to me when reading words like ‘punishment’ as ‘teaching.’

And yes, I'm aware that sounds trite too.


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