These ideas present an incomplete picture of the enormity of sin and evil. Also, they entirely overlook the fact that Satan is the great deceiver - and instigator to sin (which at its root is rebellion against God). Moreover, they imply that reconciliation to our holy Creator is effective for anyone and everyone - without the necessity of faith in the atoning work of Jesus, the Son of God, on the cross. The early church condemned this heresy. These false teachers tragically mislead people thus to conclude that the death of Jesus was therefore really unnecessary. After all, a loving God has found a "better way" (His love will "cure" sin); surely a God who is Love will not exercise judgment against sin! ( My Bible clearly states that God did indeed exercise judgment against sin. He judged Jesus for our sin - yours and mine! He punished Christ on my behalf.)
The answer to the question "Does Love Punish?" can really be quite simple. All we have to do is open our eyes and observe what is obvious in life all around us - and always has been throughout human history. Look at a father with his child. The naturally curious toddler, despite having heard his good father's loving commands several times not to play near the road in front of their house, manages to find a way to disobey. The man leaps off his front porch at the screech of a car's brakes and the sight of the careening vehicle barely missing his little son playing on the curb. His chastisement of his beloved son for the dangerous disobedience is severe! That's love! When his teenager is caught sniffing glue with other boys, the father's discipline to try to curtail his son's heading further down that road is categorically "punishment!" He loves him too much to let him destroy his own life.
Picture another scene. A vicious man who has cruelly raped several women, rapes and then murders your cherished wife. Not a single one of your brain cells will refuse to call him guilty of wrongdoing, and every fiber of your being will scream out for justice: "This evil must be punished!" All namby-pamby philosophy that insists the offense is due merely to some sort of a disorder (or was simply an error, no different than careless tumbles and falls of children) evaporates as an absurdity to your reasoning. You are appalled by any refusal to call a crime a crime, and to the soft-minded supposition that positive guilt is no ground for punishment. If somehow the judge were bribed to be dishonest and gave the murderer an acquittal, would you calmly and comfortably accept that as justice? The very law written in every man's conscience ("Thou shalt not kill") demands consequences for the breaking of that law. Thus judgment is innately part of love - of loving our fellow human beings, and of loving and respecting life itself.
In human society, there are rules and laws. Why? So that we can live together and function without total chaos. Consider something as simple as a basketball game. How well would the game proceed if everyone did whatever he felt like doing, if each player was allowed to "play by his own rules?" Laws provide safe boundaries for people's behavior, just as the basketball court is purposed for containing a properly functioning game. There are consequences for stepping out of bounds. And, for infraction of the rules, a person may have to be taken out of the game.
When her child, at any age, behaves badly, the child's mother will be disappointed and often grieved. She may even be hurt to the point of anger. If she is wise, in order to train him to act differently - for his own good, she will allow him to experience some negative consequence corresponding to his misdeed that will be emphatic enough to cause him to want to avoid a repeat. But all the while, the mother loves him just the same. Nothing the child does or fails to do will ever destroy that mother's love for him. If that is true of imperfect human love, how much more so is it true of our God's love - whose very nature is to love us?
Let us be willing to consider this clear instruction from the Bible: "Have you forgotten the encouraging exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not despise (regard lightly, as worthless) the chastening (discipline) of the Lord, nor faint (become discouraged) under His reproof or punishment. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives as His.'
If you endure chastening (correction), recognize that God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom the father who loves him does not train by discipline? If God doesn't punish you when you need it (as all fathers do their own sons), it means you are not His son at all, you don't belong to His family. Furthermore, since we respect our earthly fathers, though they punish us, shall we not much more submit to the Father of spirits so that we can begin really to live? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few short years, the best for us that they knew how; but He does it for our benefit, our highest good, that we may share in His holiness. Of course, no discipline at the time seems pleasant, but rather, painful. Nevertheless afterward, we will see the fruit it yields to those who have been trained by it: peace and righteousness in our lives" (Hebrews 12: 5-11).
Delving further into this question, "Does Love punish?" - would it really be Love if it doesn't? Consider the parent again who disciplines his own son when his son does things that can bring definite harm to himself (if not sooner, then later, certainly). Does that same man take it upon himself to correct and chasten his neighbor's son who is involved in the same self-destructive behavior? No, he doesn't. What's the difference? The father takes responsibility for the son whom he loves: he desires to protect him, to help him, and to train him - doing the best he possibly can to prepare his beloved son for a future of well-being. Although he may have concern for other boys and care about them, the same quality of fatherly love does not motivate him to enforce consequences on other boys that he believes he must on his own son. Yes, Love punishes.
There is another side to this coin. Some parents don't love their children well enough to discipline and punish them! Now, they may be quite convinced that they absolutely do love their children, but the disparity stems from their definition of "love." I will give only two examples, but there are many more hues of so-called "love." Some well-meaning parents have a view of love that primarily focuses on making the loved one happy. The product of this sentimentalism is a permissive "love" that lets the children do whatever they want to. (The parents somehow miss the reality that children have not had enough experience in life to comprehend what is truly best for them.) Another example of false love is seen in the family where parents are so busy in the pursuit of their own self-interest, that they have no time or energy to give attention to their children. But since they "love" their children, these parents give them what they presume will be a good alternative. All the best things money can buy for their children are substituted for the parents' giving of themselves. In both these scenarios, there is no place for discipline or punishment because the mother and father have no clue when their child may need discipline (as a deterrent for the child's straying into behavior that will bring him harm, and possibly even tragedy, if he is allowed to continue down the slippery slope). These inadequate versions of "love" do not punish the loved one because in actuality such "love" is negligence.
Yes, true Love does punish. But, does love take pleasure in punishing the one whom it loves? True love does not! What good father enjoys punishing his child? It is more likely that he finds it one of the most difficult of his perceived duties to perform. If this were not the truth, there would be no well-known saying: "This hurts me more than it hurts you!" And what is the "prototype" for the compassionate human "father-heart?" The very heart of the One who created us, of course, our heavenly Father's heart - none other!
Innumerable times Israel's heavenly Father chose to deal with the nation in judgment - for they provoked Him to anger with their disobedience and rebellious forsaking of His ways ("doing evil in His sight"). As it is for us as human parents, so often against our will our children themselves make it a necessity that we discipline and punish them. "Did you not bring this on yourself by rebelling against the Lord your God when He wanted to guide you and lead you in the way?" (Jeremiah 2:17). Let us ask ourselves as parents: Do we feel that it comes naturally and that it is easy and agreeable to relate lovingly to our son when he is being defiant, deliberately disrespectful, even belligerent toward us? Is it conducive to a desire for affectionate interaction with our daughter when we discover she has been maliciously slandering us on social media, that she is flaunting having "gotten away with" stealing from us, and that she also apparently despises all the good things we have done for her through long years? Yes indeed, we human parents respond to our children with something more than mild frustration! It's called anger (at the offense), and it often will lead to just retribution! So why do we get up in arms if our heavenly Father shows displeasure with us? Do we really expect Him to be such a "good old boy" that, of course, He would never get even irritated with us, much less offended? Surely a loving God would not punish anyone! Such concepts of God are tragically imbalanced and illusionary.
Yes, we punish the children we love. And so does God. And yet, equally true are Jeremiah's words: "The Lord will not cast off forever: but though He causes grief, yet will He be moved to compassion according to the multitude of His loving-kindness and tender mercy" (Lamentations 3:31,32). Unfailingly, His judgments on Israel were with the express goal in mind of awakening them and trying to turn them back onto the good path where He could bless them. Always, in disciplining His children, God's desire is restoration of right relationship and to do us good (because He loves us). David wrote: "I know, O Lord, that Your judgments are right and righteous, and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me. It is good for me that I have been afflicted: that I might learn Your statutes. Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now Your word do I keep (hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it)" (Psalm 119:75, 71, 67).
Although He disciplined Israel, nevertheless, God agonized over having to punish them. After a period of judgment, it was repeatedly written: "The Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them, and He had compassion on them...When they cried out to the Lord, He raised up a deliverer for Israel" (Judges 3:7-9; Psalm 106). Our separation from God (as a consequence of our sin) causes great pain to our Father - whose heart continually is loving us. Although Israel repeatedly grieved their Father God, and "vexed His Holy Spirit," they were still His children and His love was set on them. Therefore when He had no choice but to discipline His wayward children, the hurt of their punishment was deeply felt in God's own heart. "In all their affliction, He was afflicted; and the Angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9, 10).
Jeremiah describes a scene in which God overhears Ephraim (a synonym for Israel) bemoaning himself regarding God's discipline of him: "You have punished me greatly - but I needed it all. You have chastened me like an untrained calf must be (so he will learn to take the yoke). Oh, but, turn me again to You, bring me back - for You alone are the Lord, my God! For after I turned away from You, I repented; and after I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh (I kicked myself for my stupidity). I was thoroughly ashamed, even confounded, for the disgrace and reproach of the things I did in my youth" (Jeremiah 31: 18-19). What is the Father's response to his son's groans of repentance? Holding a grudge against him for all the trouble he'd caused Him, does He speak harshly to him, reminding him that he just got what he deserved? As we human parents sometimes stoop to do, does He feel the need to shame him and "kick the dog while he is down" - to guarantee he learns his lesson? Does He pointedly remark with an edge of hostility in His voice, "Well, it's about time you shaped up"? No! No, God the Father does not react in any of these ways. See in this anguished cry the heart of our God: "Is Ephraim still My dear son? Is he still My pleasant, darling child? (Yes!) For although I had to speak against him, I do earnestly remember him still. My bowels are troubled for him (My emotions are stirred for him) - My heart yearns for him! I will surely have mercy and compassion on him, says the Lord" (Jeremiah 31:20). We get another glimpse into the agony of God's loving heart over His wayward children from the prophet Hosea. "Oh, how can I give you up, My Ephraim? How can I hand you over (to punishment, to destruction), Israel?...My heart churns within Me. My compassion is kindled. I long to help you" (Hosea 11:8).
No, Love does not take pleasure in punishing the loved one. Far to the contrary. In the New Testament, we read that Peter wrote in response to scoffers who mocked the promise of Jesus that He would return to this earth. Just as is recorded in several places in scripture, the wicked think that there will never be any accountability for their evil actions against innocent people. They deride the thought of judgment and punishment. (Psalm 10:2-13). So by their taunting question, "Where is the promise of His coming?" (II Peter 3:4), the scoffers were arrogantly presuming and claiming that they could live however they wanted to and no Judge would ever come! These mockers ridiculed the possibility of a judgment day, or a divine reckoning. But, notice what reason Peter gives for the delay of the promised return of Jesus (to reign in righteousness over the earth): "The Lord is not slack (or negligent) concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but instead He is longsuffering toward us - not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Although the wickedness of humankind calls for immediate action (there is guilt in sin, which justly merits punishment), God withholds His righteous wrath and delays judgment. He is exercising patience and forbearance with us undeserving sinners - giving us more time, more opportunities, another chance to reach repentance. Why? Because it is not His will or desire at all that a single human being whom He created in His great love should perish. This is the character of our merciful God. Our just God who also indeed is Love (I John 4:8).
The God who is presented in the Bible as our loving Father is utterly pure and holy. It was mankind's choice to rebel against His authority as our Maker that has separated us from Him. We forfeited our relationship as sons and daughters with our Father - we lost in Eden that original oneness with God that He intended for us when He made us in His image. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (of God's glorious ideal)” (Rom. 3:23). It is not that God left us, but it is that we left Him!
Every human being inherited from Adam that nature of defiance and insubordination. All of us! (Psalm 14:3,4). The "wages" of our disobedience and rebellion against Him are death (that is, eternal separation from Him). Because God is completely holy and we are unholy sinners, our sins create a wall that separates us from Him. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you" (Isaiah 59:2). Does this mean that we are all doomed to eternal banishment from God's presence?
Indeed, there was absolutely nothing created man could do by his own best efforts to be reconciled to his offended Creator, his righteous, holy Judge. Nothing. "We have all become like one who is unclean (like a leper - but infected with sin); and all our righteous deeds (our best deeds of rightness) are no more than filthy rags (they cannot cover our pollution and impurity)" (Isaiah 64: 6). No tears I may shed for what I have done against God and man, no expression of sorrow, no good works that I perform to try to "make up for" my grieving Him, can erase the terrible record of my sins that are every single one written down in His book. More grievous than any other sin has been my despising and rejecting of His love - the greatness of which was clearly demonstrated by His giving of His Son to die for me. The inescapable truth is that I deserve His anger! God's perfect justice requires a penalty for sin (and thereby a righting of our broken relationship with Him). We can refuse to believe this fact, but nevertheless, it cannot be negated - nor avoided.
John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, wrote that believers love God because He first loved us (I John 4:19). His love, however, would not override His justice. Sin must absolutely be punished. But the infinite penalty that God's holiness requires is a debt finite man is not capable of paying. What, then, could be the answer? Lo and behold, God Himself made a way for reconciliation! He didn't leave it up to us to have to!
Oh, if we can only understand and believe the simple gospel (God's "good will to men" Luke 2:14): That God so loved us that He became a man (became Emmanuel - "one of us") in order to reconcile us to Himself through that unique Man's life, death, and resurrection. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus did what only God could do. He provided salvation for all mankind by Himself paying the penalty for our sin. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement needful for our peace and well-being was upon Him, and with the stripes that wounded Him we are healed and made whole" (Isa 53:5).
Because Jesus was without sin (He Himself never committed sin), He could not be lawfully held by death (the wages of sin). And Satan (who had the power of death - who could rightfully accuse every human being to God as worthy of death) could not hold sinless Jesus captive to death. Jesus battled Death and conquered it (for our sakes), and thus He rose from the dead! The apostle Paul wrote of this purpose and grace of God being given to us before the world began: "...which He now has made known (fully revealed) to us through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, Who annulled death (made it of no effect) and brought life and immortality (immunity from eternal death - that is, eternal separation from God) to light through the gospel" (II Timothy 1:9,10).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Son of God willingly drank the cup His Father gave Him. That most dreadful "cup" was taking the sin of all mankind into Himself. "He who knew no sin became sin for us - that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (II Corinthians 5:21). This is "The Great Exchange!" When Jesus Christ died on the cross it was not for any sin He committed; He suffered punishment for my sin, for yours, for every person who has ever existed. The very greatest, deepest agony Jesus experienced was being forsaken by His Father (separation from God) - which was necessary because He actually became our sin and guilt, because all my sin was upon Him. (And human imagination cannot ever fathom the depth of the Father's grief at the same time!) "He who did not withhold or spare even His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will He not also with Him freely and graciously give us all other things?" (Romans 8:32). Oh, may we never, ever let be trodden underfoot the precious truth of our sin being imputed to Jesus and the righteousness of Christ being imputed to us! If this is not an eternal verity, then there is no true comfort under God's sky.
If we choose to identify ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus in our place [that is, as we believe in the Lamb of God (John 1:29) as the full atonement for the inevitable sentence of "guilty" we deserve from the almighty, holy Judge of all the earth], we can be set free from that sentence. The punishment I ought to have endured was laid on Him. He who was "wounded for my transgressions," suffered and died to heal me, to make me whole - to bring me into right relationship with God. By a great mystery, His blood that was shed on the cross washes away my sin, every whit, and I am forgiven! We can put our faith in the words of Jesus from the cross, "It is finished" - and accept with all our hearts His amazing grace (His "Paid in Full" on our behalf). By this, we ''receive Him." And as our propitiation (substitute), He who in such incomparable grace took our deserved punishment of death turns around and gives us the amazing gift of His own eternal life (over which death has no power). "And this is life eternal: it means to know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John17:3).
Friend, I ask you: Do you want to return to the blessed state of being for which you sense you were created - fellowship with your loving heavenly Father? Does your heart long for the barrier to be removed so that you can come back to your home in His heart? God opened the way into His holy Presence again (He worked the most wonderful miracle any human being could ever experience) when He sent His only Son to die so that He could pay for all our sins. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (II Corinthians 5:19). If we believe in Jesus, in the power and efficacy of His sacrifice to cleanse us and save us (from sin, from selfishness, from the power of the devil and of darkness, from hell itself), we can find that open door to enter into becoming what we were born to be.
If our desire is serious, there are two things we must do. First, we must acknowledge and concede (no more excuses!) to our sinful state of having turned against our heavenly Father - and we must turn from our sins and back to submission to Him. (To "repent" means to make a 180 degree turnaround, to go in the opposite direction to the one we have been going in.) “If we freely admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and His promises) and He will forgive us our sins (dismiss our lawlessness), and He will continuously cleanse us from all unrighteousness (everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action)” (I John 1:9). Secondly, although God has provided for us the gracious gift of being set free from our sin and guilt (by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross in our place), what Jesus accomplished for us can do us no good unless we accept the gift. His promise to us is clear: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Jesus Himself said that if I come to Him, He will not cast me out" (John 6:37). He will not reject me - but in His great mercy and loving-kindness, He will take me in!
A. W. Tozer wrote (in "God is Easy to Live With"): "God is just, indeed, and He will not condone sin; but through the blood of the everlasting covenant he is able to act toward us exactly as if we had never sinned. To the trusting sons of men His mercy will always triumph over justice."
May you soak, friend, in the balm of the holy words of this old hymn by Charles Wesley:
"And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior's blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldest die for me?
He left His Father's throne above
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race:
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free.
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown through Christ my own."