This is a long life that we live. Day in and day out.
And given that we come here having been given not so much as a clue as to which end is up in terms of God and man, it’s a wonder we get through to the end at all.
And not just combust spontaneously somewhere in the middle.
So why are we here again today?
Well, it’s this frustration I have with people’s notions about God and his seemingly endless (well, he is eternal now, isn’t he) desire to Get Back At Us.
When I listen to some people I get this picture of God, with his clipboards and dictates, taking it all down. Looking it over. Coming to an Ah Ha! about us.
It brings to mind the question, Does God have a separate department for punishing people? Or does he have the ability in his most amazing capabilities to just handle it all himself?
I mean, he is the creator. I suppose he could just create himself as all arms and hands so he could spend his time – if God “spends” time – curling his lips at us and chortling as he decides which condemnation he’s going to assign us.
I mean, we’re all guilty of something every minute of the day.
Good thing he’s God, then. Able to keep up with each and every one of us. Ticking away the checkboxes by our names.
There she goes again! he must mutter to himself. If he mutters, that is.
Now there’s a good question for you: Does God have the ability to mutter? With no vocal chords – unless he creates himself as having vocal chords – I wonder what his muttering would “unsound” like.
The Mutterings of God.
That would be a good subject matter to study, don’t you think?
There’s a real subject in here somewhere. I’m bound to come across it sooner or later.
Ah, here it is. Right in front of me all along.
When I looked up the word, punishment, in the Bible, what I found was a whole lot of references to discipline.
And given that all of us have been bound to have been punished at one time or another by an authority figure, and no doubt didn’t much like the experience, some of us have taken that experience and slapped it on God.
You see, right here, where God has all those people killed?!? Wasn’t he punishing those people by killing them?
The question I stop myself from asking the most is when people refer to other people being killed – How can God allow that?!? – is, What does it matter to God if we are dead or alive?
You think God stops having a relationship with us when we have no body?
You think God only starts having a relationship with us when we have a body?
So. OK. That’s three questions. But it’s all just one big one really.
We are born. We go through a very specific process to be born. It’s called birth.
We die. We go through a very specific process to die. It’s called death.
We come in. We go out.
It’s in the design.
Unless he changes this design, of course.
But until he does, we are stuck with it.
So, no, us leaving this mortal realm is no big deal to God.
It’s part of the process. That He Designed.
So what is this God’s punishment all about?
We are given a very great opportunity in life to know the grace of God. How we come to it depends on us, though perhaps not consciously. We are born with it. Or we happen on to it. We might be taught it. Or witness someone else with this ability to know God and want to do the same.
Again, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that at some point we come to experience the “glow.” To my mind, even the worst of us have glimpses of it here and there in their lives.
No one is overlooked by God in terms of receiving grace.
It’s what we do with the experience that matters.
Do we respond and assume an active, living relationship with God? Which is, admittedly, a very hard thing to do.
Or do we start out all eager to follow the dictates of God and then get it into our heads that, well, I have better things to do. Play video games. Take the dogs for a walk. Talk on the phone.
So we may start down a path, that is the grace of God, and then we may decide to get off the path.
So here is the rub: When we step off the path we are no longer on the path of the grace of God.
It’s like stepping out of a room with a light on. It’s dark.
The light is in the room. When we are not in the room, there is no light.
(Now no ripping this metaphor apart by bringing up neon lights or stars. It’s just about having the light and not having the light. It’s just a metaphor.)
So when we are not in the light, we can’t see that well. And, let’s face it, when we get off the path of God’s grace we’re doing it because we are attached to other things that aren’t God. Normally, we Christians refer to them as sins.
And so we indulge ourselves in sin. Sometimes we pretend we are still on the path with God, but really we’re just mucking about with our friends.
So what if I embezzle a bit from my business. It isn’t hurting anyone really. And I really would like a swimming pool in the backyard.
I once read a story about a devout Roman Catholic pharmacist who, because he wanted to keep up all the generous work he did for his church, diluted the cancer medicine that he dispensed. The patients suffered from the cheating. The pharmacist lost everything in the end.
I think that’s a good picture of how we all are to some degree. The corners we cut, and the justifications we give ourselves for doing it.
So, eventually something may happen – it may have happened to this pharmacist while he sat in his jail cell – and we decide that we want to get back to feeling the grace of God in our lives.
So we set out to do just that.
But it’s a lot harder this time.
And not because God has put up some barriers to test us, or whatever.
It’s because we have to literally undo all those sins that we committed.
We have to forgive.
We have to atone.
Decide over and over again in the face of our past actions that we really do want to have an active and committed relationship with God.
So where does God’s punishment fit in?
It’s as simple as that.
That rod and that staff in Psalm 23? They are to help us stay on the path.
Somethings God does to us is just plain training. Or testing to see how well we’ve learned our lessons.
We are put to tasks that defy logic to our minds, but are perfectly reasonable in God’s.
No matter what happens – no matter what we do – we are all God’s own.
One, big Our.
With one, really big Father.
If you look up the definition of punishment, you will see that in punishment there is an idea of retribution.
I am doing this to you because you did that to me.
That isn’t a reality in our relationship with God.
The worst that you can do to God is to turn your back on him. To reject your path with him.
And what does he do then?
The light has been turned off.
God just allows you to stand there in the dark for as long as you want.
God allows you to harm yourself and others.
And boast about it.
And God’s seeming indifference is not because he does not care that we are doing this.
It’s a matter of design.
We are designed by God to have free will.
We are designed to go our own way without him.
Or at least with the appearance of being without him.
At seventeen I received my “call” vision.
And I said, No.
I wasn’t disrespectful. I was just determined to be my own person. Without visions going off in my head all the time.
I was seventeen.
Time to be my own person.
So what did God do?
Probably held the door for me.
What did I do for those few years?
Read about God.
All the time.
And how to grow them inside the house. In pots.
And help them to grow.
But that is the time that I discovered that my interest really did lie in that which is found beyond the horizon. Beyond what a normal person experiences.
Having had visions all while I was growing up I knew that there was a source of wisdom that was beyond my own creation, but which I could access from time-to-time.
And how did the visions return?
They just did. Like Saint Paul downed on the road.
They just came back.
And, as it turned out, they never had left.
I was just given an ability to flip the switch for having them come into my consciousness.
Because when they came back, it was a tsunami of visions. All those years. All those visions.
In one big dump.
As they say.
I wound up in a hospital having a panic attack.
But I wasn’t punished for my waywardness.
If I were punished for all my hard-headedness with God, I’d have been a lump of ashes a whole lot long ago.
Backs are an interesting concept.
And turning our backs on God is something we have the right to do.
What we do with our time with our backs turned on God is up to us.
But always know that God is always right there, waiting.
With one exception, all your sins can be forgiven.
All your sins can be forgiven.
Forgiveness is not a concept that can exist in the same breath as punishment.
No retaliation. No mazes set to trip us up on our return.
Just design. And redesign. And tasks assigned. And performance tested.
And so on.
But underneath every single action of God towards us, there is love.
A love that is infinite in depth and width and height.
We cannot fathom it.
But he can.