Does God Punish or Discipline Us?
Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works . . . Revelations 2:22
As my addiction came to light in 2014, my world threatened to come apart. So, I turned to God, praying desperately for protection. I was in trouble, and I needed divine intervention. Sure, I’d felt bad before, but suddenly my need for absolution was very real. I begged God’s forgiveness for all the horrible things I’d done, and then I hoped that he would get me out of my mess. In my mind, if he’d forgiven me, then it was over and done. God can’t punish me for something he’s forgiven me for, right? It sounds absurd now, but I prayed desperately for no consequences, and I understood that forgiveness meant that perhaps God would miraculously shield me from those consequences.
Consequences of course, were exactly what I needed. Without them, I was never going to change. Painful consequences helped me get sober. So, did God orchestrate those consequences? Or were painful consequences just the way the world works? If you’re a physician and you use your license to divert and use opioids, you’re going to face some unpleasant repercussions. That’s just the way the world works, right?
I’d say this is the way God made the world to work and that he uses action and consequence to discipline us. Today’s passage, I believe, backs this up. In the passage, God chastised those in the church in Thyatira who were using grace as a license to sin. God promised, that unless they repented from their sexual sin, they’d be struck with some physical sickness.
We’re often tempted to believe that grace and mercy mean that God cannot or will not discipline us for self-destructive behavior. Self-destructive behavior though, is named such, because, in it, we inflict destruction upon ourselves. If a man drinks and drives, he’ll likely get arrested – or worse. Teen pregnancy doesn’t just happen without teen sex. A promiscuous lifestyle is associated with an exponentially higher incidence of STDs than a monogamous lifestyle. Self-destructive behavior leads to pain and consequences.
Are you saying God punishes the bad kids with STDs? I don’t know that I’m equipped to answer that. I do know that it’s not wrong to identify self-destructive behavior as self-destructive. Drinking and driving will eventually result in something terrible. Likewise, using my medical license to divert opioids is going to have significant and unpleasant repercussions. Sometimes consequences are irreversible. Whether God directly causes consequences or whether it’s just the way he made the world doesn’t necessarily matter. When we engage in self-destructive behavior, there will eventually be painful consequences.