Sunday, February 05, 2006

Is God Punishing Me?

Note: If you doubt your security in the Kingdom of God, please refer to my post The Gospel of Jesus Christ for assurance.

I'm in the process of putting together another post called "Is God Punishing me." I'm going to deviate a little from my normal mode by posting some thoughts as I go, while I write. I do this because this is a very difficult and touchy topic, and in line with the tenets of my profession, I want to "do no harm" first and foremost, so I'll be going slowly and carefully.

Given that, I invite you to post your thoughts or suggestions on the topic, and I'll consider and reflect on them as I write. My basic theory is that God doesn't punish those who are His in His Son. Correct? Chastise? Yes. But punish? No.

The problem I have is that God is the same now as He was in the Old Testament, and the English translation of the OT Hebrew uses the word "punish" repeatedly referring to the Hebrews - God's very people. But what I'm trying to discern is if the intent of this punishment was the same as we interpret the word "punish" today, or if God had something different in mind for His people. I think He did.

At this point, I want to post some definitions. I'm going to be using these definitions as I study the bible to determine where each of them applies as God dealt with the Isrealites, how He dealt with the first century folks, and how He's dealing with us now.

This is a huge topic, and I will not do it justice here. My intent is to give people who feel like they are being "punished" for their sins something to chew on that might lighten their load, give them more hope that God is looking out for them, and that in reality, "there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1). If I'm talking to you and you're truly a believer, I believe that you're not being "punished" in the current definition of the word, but that God - as always - has your best interest in mind. He's with you and loves you in your time of tribulation. That's the case I will be trying to build.

My sources are: Webster's New World Dictionary (1991), and Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary (1996).

Punish: 1. to cause to undergo pain, loss, or suffering for a crime or wrongdoing; 2. to impose a penalty on a wrongdoer for an offense; 3. to treat harshly or injuriously (punishing rays of sun). Implies the infliction of some penalty on a wrongdoer and generally connotes retribution rather than correction (to punish a murderer by hanging).

Discipline suggests punishment that is intended to control or to establish habits of self-control.

Correct suggests punishment for the purpose of overcoming faults.

Chastise implies usually corporal punishment and connotes both retribution and correction.

Castigate now implies punishment by severe public criticism or sensure.

Chasten implies the infliction of tribulation in order to make obedient, meek, etc. and is used especially in a theological sense.

(The above are from Webster's)

Vine's breaks it down by the Greek word that is translated in the New Testament as "Punish" or "Punishment."

Kolazo (Strong's 2849)- primarily denotes "to curtail, prune, dock"; then, "to check, restrain, punish";

Timoreo - (5097) - Primarily, "to help," then, "to avenge" (from time "value, honor," and ouros, "a guardian"), i.e., "to help" by redressing injuries.

Ekdikesis (1557) - "punishment", "vengeance".

Epitimia (2009) -Originally it signified the enjoyment of the rights and privileges of citizenship; then it became used of the estimate fixed by a judge on the infringement of such rights, and hence, in general, an "penalty."

Kolasis (2851) - "punishment" describing a process, not merely the effect; this kind of fear is expelled by perfect love; where God's love is being perfected in us, it gives no room for the fear of meeting with His reprobation; the "punishment" referred to here is the immediate consequence of the sense of sin, not a holy awe but a slavish fear, the negation of the enjoyment of love.

Dike (1349) "justice," or "the execution of a sentence," is translated "punishment" in Jude 7.

Timoria (5098) - primarily "help", denotes "vengeance, punishment."

I don't fully understand each of these definitions yet. I've just put them here directly from the sources to begin the process of formulating my (and hopefully,your) thoughts.

This is the definition I found in the Zodhiates "Complete Word Study Dictionary - Old Testament". It's the Hebrew word translated as "punish" more than any other Hebrew word.

Paqad (6485) - A verb meaning to attend, to visit, and to search out. The word refers to someone (usually God) paying attentioin to persons, either to do them good (Gen. 50:24, 25; ex. 3:16; 1 Sam. 2:21; Jer. 23:2); or to bring punishment or harm (Ex. 20:5; Isa. 10:12; Jer.23:2). The word also means, usually in a causative form, to appoint over or to commit to, that is, to cause people to attend to something placed under their care (Gen.39:4, 5; Josh. 10:18; Isa.62:6). The passive causative form means to deposit, that is, to cause something to be attended to (Lev. 6:4[5:23]). The word also means to number or to be numbered, which is an activity requireing attention. This meaning occurs over ninety times in the book of Numbers. The word can also mean (usually in a passive form) lacking or missing, as if a quantity was numbered less than an original amount (Judg. 21:3; 1 Sam. 20:18; 1 Kgs. 20:39).

I grew up believing that the opposite of the word love is hate. Over the last many years, I've come to learn that that's not true. The opposite of love is disinterest. It says "I don't care enough about you to give you the time and energy it would take to hate you. You're not worth the effort." That's the complete and utter lack of love. That's the worst it can get.

Read that definition again. The word "punish" only shows up once in the definition, and that's only one of two options when God is paying attention to someone. The rest of it has a very positive connotation.

I'm not done yet with my research, but what that definition shows me is, If you're feeling "punished," then God is really paying attention to you. When He "punished" the Isrealites, He was right there, attending to them, visiting them, searching them out. Even when He was exacting "punishment" on them, He was loving them in a most profound way.

Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him. The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon. They afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel that year; for eighteen years they afflicted all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. The sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed.

Then the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, "We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals." The LORD said to the sons of Israel, "Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will no longer deliver you. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." The sons of Israel said to the LORD, "We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day." So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer (italics mine). Judges 10:6-16

God was mad at Israel. They'd sinned and sinned and sinned, wontonly, purposely, and God's anger "burned against them" He delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for 18 years. But note that it was only after that 18 years that the Israelites cried out to the LORD. It says "Then...". "Then" they cried out. After the 18 years! Then they turned back to Him and put away their false gods - but only after the 18 years in captivity. And He could bear their misery no longer.

Wow. I can feel His pain at watching His children suffer - even though they deserved it and they asked for it! He was hurting! For 18 years watching them suffer, He was hurting too! Waiting for them to cry out to Him! Like the prodigal father (Luke 15), though, He didn't deliver them from their poor decisions. He just suffered - tough love - as He waited and watched them, waiting for them to understand that they had done this to themselves. Then He allowed them to feel the consequences of their decision as they fought their way out of the mess they'd created.

But don't you think for a second that He wasn't there with them, "attending" to them, the whole way. Once He felt like they'd learned their lesson...

The LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. Judges 11:21

The interesting thing about all of this is that although God was hurting for their pain, and He had decided to turn it all around, the Isrealites still had to deal with being lilberated. They still had the consequences of their sin to deal with. Although God had responded to their cries, He didn't miraculously deliver them. They had to work at it.

Why? God knows that idol-worship is the worst thing we can do to ourselves, and He needs us to understand that when we do it, there will be consequences, and He is going to allow us - as any loving parent would - to experience those consequences to help us learn how bad our idols are for us. They will destroy us, and that's what He really wants us delivered from.

So what idols do we have today? We're not talking little wood and plastic statues sitting in the corner now. We're talking modern day idols. Things like money, power, popularity, substances, our work, our religiosity, our spouses...

...our own children. That's right - our children can become an idol we dedicate our lives to. Be very careful that God is your God, and that you don't make your children your gods.

Jesus said that we are to hate our mother and father and brothers and sisters and even ourselves if we are to be His disciples (Luke 14:26). Does He really mean we are to actually "hate" all of these people? Of course not. He's making this a contrast to the love we should feel toward Him. As compared to our love for Him, we are to hate everyone and everything else on the face of the planet. Anything short of that is idol-worship. God must be your one-and-only God.

Sin destroys. Idol-worship destroys. The enemy, who wants you to believe that it's all about your own personal happiness, will tempt you with all manner of idols in this lifetime. But God knows that our idols will crush us and make us lose sight of Him. And when that happens, we're lost. Like Peter, who was walking on water miraculously, when he turned and looked back at the winds and the boat, sank. He took his eyes off of Jesus and put them back on the world.

One of the most dramatic illustrations in the bible of the effect the enemy can have on us is when Jesus allowed "Legion" to enter the pigs. No sooner had they departed the man and entered the pigs, the pigs went plummeting down the hill to their deaths. "Choked" the bible calls it in the Greek. Why did Jesus allow this? Because He needed to illustrate in a profound and graphic way the effect the devil can have on us. We feel sorry for the pigs. Nobody forgets that they died horrible deaths. What they often don't see, however, is that when we allow ourselves to be influenced by the devil, we are the pigs!

God will allow us to live through the consequences of our poor decisions and idol-worship to heighten our awareness, and boost our motivation to steer clear of idols, even if He is suffering with us, even if He is no longer angry at us. A strong and loving parent will do that.

Punishment, as the world sees it, is for the satisfaction of the punisher, not the redemption of the offender. Do you believe that's God's heart? I don't. Not on your life.

More as I study more... Please leave comments.