“Punishment” is often attributed to God long before “love” or “grace.” The wrath of God is far more interesting a headline than his humble sacrifice and endless love for those who have not loved him. For many, the creator God is an authority figure to his inferior creation, small beneath his heavy hand. In this vertical perception of holy hierarchy, there is far too much room for rules and consequences and far less room for love and grace. While God has established his law and standards and there are indeed consequences to breaking them, the punishment of God is often misunderstood. As most of us experience punishment, an act of disobedience is swiftly followed by an act of punishment intended to end the disobedience. This is reactionary punishment. While this approach to punishment is effective, the punishment of God is typically far more lesson driven. God’s desire is not limited to putting an end to our misbehavior, but shows us how our misbehavior has terrifying effects on not only our own lives but others as well. When punishment is associated merely with our own actions, isolated to us as individuals, we learn obedience and punishment in a system of self-preservation and self-service. Godly wrath and punishment is far broader and more terrifying. God’s punishment intends to show us that with freedom to seek the satisfaction of our human desires, we are capable of far more destruction than one single act.
Will a child learn and understand the consequences of stealing the car keys and driving the family car more if stopped before leaving the driveway, or if allowed to drive around the city for a single hour? The first is a warning of things that could have been. The second is an experience of consequences. The second leaves no room for hypotheticals or what ifs. It locates the disobedience directly within the consequences. Therefore, the punishment of God in terms of letting us carry out our desires without correction is far more terrifying than a direct rebuke by the Lord Almighty before a false step is taken. However, in this way we are better able to understand the purpose of his law when we face our own destructive tendencies. Only by experiencing the dangers of our own nature can we not only accept but desire his laws, decrees and protection from ourselves. Save us from ourselves, Lord God Almighty!