Who’s Punishing Whom?

How often have you heard some say, whether the person was accustomed to the church or averse to church life, that God was punishing them for XYZ?

You know how this goes.  You may have even had the thought yourself.  Something bad enters your life and your blame is immediate fixed on the Almighty.  It could be the response to a minor inconvenience, like locking your keys in your car, to a major trauma, like the loss of a job.  (I’ve experienced both.)  But your blame towards God is really only half-hearted because you reckon that it must be pay back for something terrible (or at least mildly disobedient) you had done earlier.

“Oh, I’ve stepped in organically processed dog food again!” you say to your walking buddy.  “It’s the Lord getting me back for buying that lottery ticket last week.”  Whether it’s conscious, we figure God is exacting comeuppance for XYZ.

It strikes me today, however, that such an approach to God, whether in trivial matters or in the consequential, falls short of God’s entire agenda as we find it in Scripture.  The Lord’s goal has never been to punish the perpetrator of XYZ.

We only need to look at the culmination of the Lord’s story in the Bible to know that this is not His primary agenda.  In fact, God’s purpose, as demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Christ, should be read in one of two parallel and interlocking ways.

First, the Lord has not been waiting for an opportunity to punish evildoers on the earth.  He was, rather, waiting for a human being to step up in righteousness and take on everyone else’s deserved punishment for XYZ.  The glory of Jesus’ story is that he followed that very path all the way to his own death.  (Well, that, and his vindication by the Lord.)

Second, and perhaps more profound, God had been waiting through history for the chance to take upon Himself punishment for XYZ.  One of the more remarkable aspects of early Christian theology is that as they considered what they had either seen or hear regarding the life of Jesus, they began to realize they were witnessing the actions of God in and through this Jesus.  Jesus was a man, yes, but somehow, he was also perfectly representing the Lord as well.

Is God punishing you for XYZ?  Probably not.  He’s gone to great lengths to withhold punishment.  I’d be surprised if God suddenly began undermining His own work.

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