Does God punish?

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According to some believers it is impossible that God still punishes and surely not His own people. Others however show with multiple examples from the Bible that God does indeed still punish. Especially His own people. Both positions seem to exclude each other. What can be found in the Bible about God’s punishment?

Punishment is a correctional measure [1] as a result of a judgment based on a known or sufficiently proven [2] crime [3]. Punishment can be directly felt, like in the case of corporal punishments, or indirectly, like a fine or limitation of freedom. Judgment is commonly established on the basis of a law or regulations. Receiving judgment is a gracious measure [4]. Also, because it suggests a considered punishment. An authorized body came to a judgment often connected to a predetermined measure of punishment. This method suggests ‘righteousness’ [5].

Image of God
To determine whether God punishes or not is dependent on the image of Him [6]. For many this is predetermined by church denominations [7] or otherwise by the individual imagination. In almost all of Christianity the Lord Jesus is seen as equal to the God of the Old Testament (OT) [8]. Even to the point that it is unbeneficial for the image of God, the Father. If such a believer thinks about God and considers the question whether He punishes, those think about the Lord Jesus and the way He acted on earth in the first century AD. This is an unreal, unBiblical, romantic image which doesn’t represent the God described in the Bible. Since that image of the Lord Jesus is of course too much bound to time, place and His special ministry in that period. They forget that the Lord Jesus always is under the authority of God [9], the Father [10], from birth till today. Otherwise naming Him ‘Son of God’ would be meaningless or to general [11].

Also, the majority of Christianity gives more weight to the New Testament (NT) then to the OT. Even up to the point that the OT is interpreted from the NT, or even worse from the Gospels. So, when it is explicitly written in the OT that God punishes, then immediately it is claimed that the Lord Jesus has put that aside. This is clearly untrue. Since there are sufficient ‘arguments’ in Bible that prove that the Character of God is unchangeable. If, however, God would fundamentally change His Character, the consequence would be that He would not only be unrighteous (arbitrary), but also unreliable and incomprehensible [12]. If, however, God doesn’t change, then it is safe to state that He punishes. Even since the birth of the Lord Jesus until today. This is also confirmed in the Bible. Are there examples of that?

A punishment of God after the coming of the Lord Jesus was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem [13]. Another well-known punishment of God is the death penalty of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). The book of Revelations, written by the apostle John, is full of future punishments of God (Rev 14:10; 16:6; 20:15).

Mercy versus punishment
Some argue that the coming of the Lord Jesus specifically announced the mercy of God and that this would be His new, permanent attitude towards to world (Jh 1:17). But that argument is in conflict with the fact that God’s mercy is also a thin red line in the OT. The mindset of discontinuity since the coming of the Lord Jesus is also fed from the focus on the earthly image [14] of the Lord Jesus mentioned above. But that ministry of the Lord Jesus not only was unique and happening only once. It is also definitively fulfilled and completed. He no longer is a Bible Teacher and the perfect Pésach Offering.

But it is indeed true. From the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus no punishment originates. In fact, His acts on earth have no influence on the governance of God over Creation [15]. However, it has influence in how far that governance can penetrate in the lives of people [16].

Forgiveness/reconciliation versus punishment
Others state that by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus all sins are forgiven and that it reconciled humanity with God. Therefore, it would be impossible or without reason for God to continue to punish. This position is however incorrect and naive. The consequence of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus will only get its intended ‘payment’ at the end of time. Although it has to be admitted that the redemption of the people of God from the power of satan is however ‘invisible’, although it immediately has its consequences for them. Believers are released of the power/force of their nature to be bent on committing sins (trespassing the ‘commandments’ of God). As a consequence, they also could receive the Spirit of God and then spiritual growth became an important requirement. From then on they became bound to the Temple service of the Lord Jesus in heaven, which was specifically enforced to prevent the punishment of God. So, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus thus has primarily no general function (for all humanity), but a specific function (for the people of God). But the existence of the Temple service in itself proves that God still punishes [17].

Who is involved in God’s punishment?
Some are convinced that God only punishes the evil ones, but never His Own people or otherwise good people [18]. Concerning distinguishing between people, it has to be clear that God is aimed at making the whole of Creation obedient to Him again. This will become the prime function of the coming Messiah; submitting the enemies of God to the Father (Hb 1:13). So, ‘good people’ are irrelevant for God. Humans have to become His Property, after which they become able to honor and serve Him (Gn 2:15). Everyone who doesn’t meet that requirement doesn’t belong to His people.

But if God’s punishments are primarily aimed at His Own people, then this has to be well understood. However, first of all He is Father. Those who never experience God’s punishment have to be regarded as outsiders (outside of God’s people). But this doesn’t mean they can get away with their crimes. The salvation plan of God involves the restoration of His governance over the whole of Creation. So, His punishments will also reach them who are outside of His people. The difference is that He cannot punish them based on His Covenant conditions [19]. They have never entered freely into His Covenant. He will therefore punish them on the basis of more general qualities [20] and matters [21].

This doesn’t mean that the punishment will be milder, but often totally unexpected and incomprehensible to them. What is worse is that the final punishment – God’s final judgment – will be delayed until the end of the current Creation. Punishment of the unbelievers is almost always connected with God’s revenge. That final revenge requires the most severe measure of punishment. For them God has reserved the ‘lake of fire’ [22].

Why and how will God punish His people?
Central to the Bible is the education of God (Torah). From birth humans are enemies of God, uprooted and estranged with the things of God (Eph 4:18; Col 1:21). However, God becomes known through the enrolment of His salvation plan. This (ultimately) also involves Creation and its creatures in general, but it is specifically aimed at the salvation of His people (the believers). But believers remain humans and therefore they need to undergo the way of conversion, faith enlargement and growth to become utilizable believers. That they commit sins along the way is obvious. The idea that God would not punish that based on a general regulation (Torah) is unlike the teaching of the Bible, dangerous and unrighteous. One must never forget that no believer only lives for itself. The punishments of God are at least meant to keep His herd of believers together. Concerning the latter, partially the punishments of the unbelievers by God have to do with that as well. God needs to be feared. This also is part of the right way of loving God.

Added to it that God wants that amongst believers, in the people of God, His justice will be done and is upheld. That means that within that people faculties of justice must be established, maintained and respected. Not just corrections and the enforcement of discipline, but also the banishment of people. God delegates the execution of His punishments to certain members of His people. This is seen as something rather difficult to digest for many believers that quite naïvely think about the execution of His punishments.

They believe that only God Himself will execute these punishments and the believers may not condemn each other. The question however is how such believers accept the rule of law of the government and the ‘sword’ it wields. The latter is given to it by God to act on His behalf (Rm 13:4). Often these believers do accept the secular ‘execution of justice’, however crooked it might be, but refuse to accept the religious execution of justice of God within His people.

Punishment or blessing / punishment a blessing?
Most people do not want to be punished. God also doesn’t want to punish. Even more so, His punishments are (ultimately) aimed at being able to bless. This article could have had the question ‘Does God bless?’ as its subject. But since that answer is so self-evident, many would not bother to read it. However, how do we get in a situation that He no longer punishes and only blesses [23]? The answer is also self-evident. By comprehending the word of God, the Bible, and living according to it.

But more knowledge and more fruitfulness works also means more responsibility. The increase of that also increases the threat of severe punishments. Nowadays cases come to light of religious ministers who have sexually abused believers from His flock [24]. When God wouldn’t punish that many would respond with indignation and abhorrence. It is also important to recognize that God not always punishes immediately, but in His time. If nowadays ministers get away with their suspected crimes it doesn’t say anything about their end (Ex 32:33-34).

So, does there remain a chance that God will punish? Yes, because that is also reaffirmed by the believers responsibility towards the Covenant and the Character of God. That responsibility is dynamic.

Sometimes a punishment can also be healing, restoring the right or a different perspective on matters. That God can punish at least doesn’t mean that we should become fearful or cringing or avoid certain things or responsibilities. It especially annoys God if we do not live as believers in the full and then cause Him to punish us. It does however mean that serving God is interesting and a path of falling and standing up again.

Imagine that God would accept everything we do without ever correcting us. Wouldn’t that in the end be absolutely boring? Still, we shouldn’t begin to mock God or provoke Him. That can most certainly expect to be severely punished. The aim should certainly be to study Him, to get to know Him better and to always wanting to please Him. That intention in itself would get God aroused to bless and not to punish. Let us keep our lives in that track and let’s see what God will do.

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[1] Above all aimed at bringing someone back to the normal order (instructive). But it also has a function as an alternative to revenge. It shows society that the rule of law is upheld.
[2] Otherwise it is not possible to reach the required judgment. Punishment should be imposed to meet the proper execution of law.
[3] An act which conflicts with the common law and/or conflicts with the general interests of society. There are grades in crime.
[4] Since it requires time to come to a judgment, during which time the accused remains unpunished. The accused can be acquitted by the judgment. Judging too quickly is often less beneficial.
[5] Justice should be done in a ‘neutral’ way. The combination of judgment and punishment for a certain crime should be the same for everyone.
[6] How one thinks that God is like.
[7] Branches of Christianity.
[8] According to the Trinity theory.
[9] There is a Trinity theory that states that the Lord Jesus is subordinate to His Father within the imagined Unity.
[10] ‘The Father’ is not mentioned in the sense of Trinity (relation bond), but in the sense of hierarchy.
[11] Male members of the people of God are obviously also called ‘sons of God’. Just like angels. So, in the case of the Lord Jesus, it must have another, distinguishing meaning.
[12] Some image themselves God being incomprehensible, but that would mean that the Biblical description of the image of God is irrelevant.
[13] The prophesied punishment for breaking His Covenant caused by the serious evil done by Israel. Christians traditionally do not classify that as a punishment or as something that doesn’t concern them, but these are serious errors.
[14] The way He acted on earth in the first century.
[15] Also expressed in punishments of God.
[16] Which enhances responsibility of the believers towards God and Creation.
[17] Thus, first of all believers, His people (1 Pe 4:17).
[18] There is a conviction called ‘All reconciliation’, stating that God ultimately will not punish any creature since He is love. This conviction is not only false, but also naïve. According to the Bible there are no ‘good people’.
[19] God doesn’t go beyond Himself. The Torah is a blueprint of His Character and Will.
[20] Like ‘conscience’, recognition of the order of Creation and logical reasons.
[21] Damaging, endangering of suppressing the people of God or Creation.
[22] More commonly known as ‘hell’.
[23] If this would ever be possible.
[24] This often also concerns others crimes, like misuse of power and manipulation.