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Monday, September 04, 2006
Does God Punish
While there are certainly instances in the Bible where it appears that God has punished His people, does He in fact punish or does He simply allow us to suffer the consequences of our sin? Could the answer be in the definition of the term? Is there a difference between punishment and discipline? I have, for the first time, begun exploring these thoughts and am curious to hear other opinions.


posted by Tiffanie Lloyd at 9:04 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 9/04/2006 11:01:00 AM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    Hmmm...I'm exploring this too. Julie set me on an interesting book called "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn.

    I train dogs as a hobby and am interested in the psychology of training kids now, since I have two. The book has some interesting conclusions that contradict what I've thought I knew. I can't say it's a great book (I'm a third through it) but it is posing interesting questions...

    One of the stands Mr. Kohn takes, is that punishment does not produce consistent self motivated behavior changes. If that's true, would God use it to change our behavior? Have we then misunderstood the role of punishment in the bible stories (I'm thinking Exodus and in the desert 40 yrs). How does that interrelate with the way we view God, heaven and his kingdom?

    I'll think more about your question and try to post some details from the book later...

  • At 9/04/2006 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Swandive

    As a woman, I find it intersting that you pose the question in the "He" of God-self. I believe that God is Love, and sometimes Love hurts, Love heals, Love forgives. I believe life is a journey of lessons and parables, if we are only careful enough to listen. We punish ourselves in our choices and decisions. God gives us free will, and hopes for us to show forth God's light and give thanks and praise. When we make choices that don't give honor to the God within us (as a person, a family, a community, etc.), consequences are inevitable. Call that punishment?

    Definitly and interesting question yours is Tiffanie.

  • At 9/04/2006 12:29:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    I can't see God as vindictive. I think god loves us and wants the best for us. We live through the consequences of our actions and often blame God for them or ascribe them to God as punishments. So most of the time I see it as our own perspetive. but then there are passages like Ezekiel 16 49 " 'Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. " what do you do with that?

  • At 9/04/2006 01:14:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    discipline is training - it is not punishment. This is an area I've also explored over the past several years. Too many references to the rod - shebet - being taken as punishment. Its not meant to be, its meant to guide and protect sheep. No shepherd beats his sheep. More on this later, have an impatient 5 yr old nearby.

  • At 9/04/2006 05:24:00 PM, Blogger Tiffanie

    Swandive-no one has ever challenged my thinking about this before. Can you please elaborate... "As a woman, I find it interesting that you pose the question in the "He" of God-self."

    It is the "as a woman" part that really interests me. How should my reference to God have been different from that of a mans? How would you have referred to God in asking this question?

    Discipline is training. I like that. However, was it discipline or punishment when God flooded the world?

  • At 9/04/2006 06:46:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Punishment from God?
    By Rabbi Aron Tendler from Torah.org

    "… reward is anything that brings us closer to G-d and punishment is anything that distances us from G-d. From a different perspective it could be said that reward and punishment are subject to our free will. What we make of them, the attitudes that we bring to bear on the events of our lives, determines if something is a reward or a punishment. If the events of our lives cause us to distance ourselves from G-d then those events are by definition bad and a punishment. If the events of our lives force us to be closer to G-d then those events are by definition good and a reward.

    I do not mean to suggest that there aren't absolute goods and evils. Events in and of them can be good or evil. For example, the events of 9-11 were evil; however, how we relate to those events, how we deal with the effects of evil on our lives is our choice. We can choose life - reward, or we can choose death - punishment. (Note: Death in this context means a denial of G-d ...)"

    I thought adding a Hebrew (this Rabbi's) perspective (a small section from a larger teaching he posted) might bring some interest to our conversation since many of the references so far have been from the O.T.

  • At 9/04/2006 07:20:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    My thinking on this has changed so much recently. I can't say I can say yes or no, because I am about situations and details. I am currently reading "What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell?" by Randy Klassen. I had struggled with "eternal pushment" etc. expecially within my changing ideas. This book is Great! It is easy reading, only about 130 pages, and could be used in a study group. Even though it deals with "tradional view" of Hell, it deals with literalism, "worship of the Bible" vs. "worship of 'The Living Word' (Jesus)". It also deals with those passages, ideas of the "vengeful" God and reconciling that to Jesus. So indirectly, even this little book has made a huge impact in my views, how I read things, how I view God, and putting many things in a much different context. I highly recommend it if you struggle with ideas such as "eternal punishment" and "angry/vengeful God", or just want a good read. It doesn't give a pat answer, but really challenges many current thoughts.

  • At 9/04/2006 08:35:00 PM, Blogger Swandive

    Sorry - I should have gone a little further in the God definition. I always find it interesting when women (everyone really, but especially women) refer to God as male in pronouns. Him, He, His. God's self is neither male nor female. I stumbled upon this blog not that long ago, and thought yea! emergent conversations with women! So awesome. I have enjoyed lurking for a while, and have even started to respond to a few posts before, but always chickened out. But I responded today for some reason, and the trigger was talking about God in the male form.
    I hope that have made some sense, and look forward to lurking and commenting more. I have really enjoyed the responses to this question you posed, T. Especially from From the Margins. Blessings to you all tonight.

  • At 9/04/2006 09:26:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    Hey all, back, and sorry. More scattered thoughts from me - as I have a lot going on right now and am reading several books that really have me thinking on other things (men/women..good stuff).

    To whomever asked about the flood - I believe that God does punish, but not in a punitive manner, more in a 'just' manner as God is just. He provides a path for us and when we stray from it, and being given opportunity for repentance, there are consequences, punishments, etc. I believe they are handled differently for those who belong to Him and those who don't.

    And in Christ, Him having taken on our 'punishment' or penalty for us, grace abounds. I believe there are a lot of 'natural' consequences of our actions and that when we are removed from His protection we suffer those consequences as they are not blocked by Him.

    I believe God is much more about discipling and grace and consequences of our own actions than about punitive punishments. In a way, our rejection of Him is 'honored'.

  • At 9/04/2006 09:31:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    Were the 40 years in the dessert punishment or training? Was it punishment or opportunity for growth and repentence?

    As somenoe else said, perhaps a lot of how we approach the subject is persepctive.

  • At 9/04/2006 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I do think that many times the "punishment" is consequence to our bad choices, actions etc. I do tend to see it more as, God may not step into change outcomes, for whatever reason. Where I struggle with this is that through Christ our sins were covered and the way I have been taught (so...may need some help here) we have been redeemed already. So at least now, after Christ, I don't necessarily think God is deciding who needs "punishment". Maybe, Old Testament stories teach us about redemption and consequences, but through Christ, God deals with us differently then those before Christ. I think opportunity arises for redemption, lessons learned, guidance, etc. but I think definately after Christ things changed.
    Our pastor was speaking recently and mentioned how he was taught "fear of God" as if God stood over us, ready and waiting to whip the belt out at the first wrong move. He was constantly told "God Hates Sin" (as I also, was told frequently). He said now he really thinks that God doesn't hate sin because he waits to punish, but hates sin because of what it "does" to us, and to our lives. Like a father or mother watching the impact of a bad choice or decision made by a child, God hates the pain, hurt etc. that occurs with sin. That has stuck with me. So I look to the nature of Christ and the love that was taught, and I have a hard time reconciling the punishing God with the Loving Christ. The nature of Christ and God is to redeem and heal.

  • At 9/05/2006 04:50:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    uI will share my learning about punishment vs discipline from my time as an early childhood teacher. Discipline is a method used to help teach a child to become self-disciplined in a behavior or attitude. Punishment is teaching I am the boss, you will obey me and serves to maintain control not specifically teach. In my experiences of life raising children, teaching, helping in church organizations I have found discipline much more helpful to the children, students, and adults, however there have been insances where no amount of disciplined strategies worked and I as the adult had to say, "I am your mother and you cannot have any more snacks before supper, that's the end of it. Punishment is utalized by a bigger power towards a smaller power to exert control and limit the person being punished to any immediate response except to obey. These words are easily confused.Disciples and discipleship come from the same word which means we need discipline (from God) in order to grow. Children need discipline from parents in order to grow well. We all need discipline from God to grow spiritually well. Peace and joy.

  • At 9/05/2006 08:38:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    A reflection on 'the flood' ... the ancient sunami!

    I'll suggest that it doesn't matter whether it's a punishment or discipline. I think God made a mistake and, from my limited human perspective of understanding God, the best I can offer is a "Holy Contending" with the God of Love on this! I'll even suggest that God regrets doing it.

    What if Noah had contended with God for humanity like Abraham did for Sodom? Perhaps he didn't know God well enough ... but perhaps there's a progressive revelation of God's character and Abraham takes the risk to contend with God, being more sure of God's character.

    So, what could be different today if we were spiritually secure enough to contend with God? What if atrocities continue because The Church is not using her Identity in Christ to CONTEND with God?

    Could women bring this spiritual gift to the Christian table that has been so largely ignored (but is part of our spiritual Jewish heritage?) What could we model? What could we write? This could be fresh teaching that we bring to the table.

  • At 9/05/2006 08:53:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    I can get behind the idea that we can contend with God, but not so much so that God made a 'mistake'. Just my .02

  • At 9/06/2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger Tiffanie

    I can not agree with God having made a mistake. If that were so, then the God I know does not exist. It wasn't after the flood that God became all that He is. God's plan has been in motion from the beginning, it did not formulate after a mistake.

    I think I agree in the possibility that, if I understand correctly, pre-Christ God could very well have punished for sin, but that now He "deals with us differently".

    I also think it is all in our perspective of things. In hindsight we can usually see a lesson learned or a disaster avoided, and so what we thought to be punishment was exactly what we needed to experience in order to become more like Christ. It is unfortunate for us, that we often need to learn the hard way... which can surly seem like punishment.

  • At 9/06/2006 11:19:00 AM, Blogger From the Margins

    I'll define 'mistake' as ... not a sin, (all our mistakes are certainly not sins) but something that one has regrets about ... God did have regrets! God said so.

    T: You are coming from a theology of God's total plan done and finished from before the beginning. But, that is not the only Judeo/Christian view out there. In fact, the ancients didn't have this view, but this view you are coming from did become extremely popular with Calvin and reformed theology.

    Perhaps God is and always has been actively working out His Plan, making Divine adjustments in true tandem/partnership/covenant with His creation... making allowances for human choices because God chooses to. Yet still being able to see His ultimate Plan through to the end, validating and accomodating human beings in the process.

    T: Even with different views, (and different spiritual experiences with Father/Son/Spirit so far in our journey's) I suggest we both "know" the same God. And, This Divine Other "exists" and knows us equally well. :-) Yea!

  • At 9/06/2006 12:21:00 PM, Blogger Tiffanie

    While I think that God does regret (the sins of His people for example), I do not think that God has regrets about His actions. From The Margins-can you point me to the regrets of God that you are referring to.

  • At 9/06/2006 04:37:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    Gen. 6:6-7

  • At 9/06/2006 11:49:00 PM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    I think we have to be very careful when we assess our pain and tribulation in this life to God. This happens all the time. Most evangelicals think nothing of this and will go so far as to elevate those who are willing to accept God as a mean, angry, vengeful "him" who is waiting to slap them back into submission as the most spiritual among us. How many times have I heard, "I don't know why this horrible thing happened, but I'm sure God had a good reason."

    I think this is nothing short of blasphemy and here's why: Jesus told us (paraphrase) even though we are "evil" we know how to give good gifts to our children, but God loves us infinitely more, so why don't we expect good gifts from Loving Presence (I like that gender-free name for God--but a lot of people freak out about it.)

    Why does it feel like I'm being stretched so far to consider ideas like those proposed by FTM about whether or not God regreted the flood (o.k., I'll admit my evangelical knee-jerk response was, Oh my gosh!!), but it seems so easy to wonder if the last horrible thing that happened in my life was God just trying to mold me into a better Christian?

  • At 9/07/2006 12:13:00 AM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop

    My life and experience really resonate with the concept that God uses consequences, natural and God's, to mold and grow us.

    I would not be the person I am today without the sexual abuse I suffered as a child, the tumor that nearly killed me four years ago and the turmultous last year with my husband's job situations. I would not be the person I am today without having watched and lived through my sister's unwanted pregnancy. She would not have become a Christian without having gone through that natural consequence of her actions. Her son Jacob is a living reminder of God's grace and the impossible struggles that have sent her again and again to rely on God.

    For some people (like myself) it takes incredible pain to get through a thick skull. Because God allowed whatever it took to rescue my sister and I, we are with him.

    Did God punish us? No, he refined us with a reallllly hot fire.

    Oh, and I use "he" because in English it's the common gender neutral when talking about people and I'm not comfortable talking about God as "it." Just my personal preference.

  • At 9/07/2006 09:06:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    I have had different views lately on this. I think that natural consequences occur in response to my actions, and sometimes we just don't know why things happen ie. sexual abuse, tumors, etc. I think that hard times and pain change us and form us, but I have a hard time believing God "allowed" those things to happen to you in order to form you into a strong believer. I whole heartedly think you were met in rough times and the love, comfort, etc. you received probably helped you. There are many people out there that get "slammed" with all kinds of hard things in life, while others don't. Some of the "others" our human nature wishes would receive hard times, and some we seem to think "Why does this happen to them?". I have seen the most Faithful believers dealt one issue after another.

  • At 9/07/2006 02:33:00 PM, Blogger Tiffanie

    My interpretation of Genesis 6:6-7 is not that God regretted His actions like I might regret having a spicy meal that has now lead to heart burn, but that He was sorry about mans response to His plan. Most interpretations use the word grieved, which I do not think is meant as regret. I think that God was expressing sorrow that His people choose sin, and not that He made a mistake. 1Samuel 15:29 informs us that God does not change His mind. When God created man He said it was good; the decision to create man has always been good. If God does not change His mind, then He did not, at the time of the flood, have regrets and decide that maybe the decision was bad.

    Whether the sufferings we endure are consequences of our own actions or not, I believe that God uses all things for good. So, while a life threatening disease might be a result (or consequence) of our unhealthy behavior, God can, and I believe will, use the disease for good and allow us to grow through the experience in one way or another.

  • At 9/07/2006 07:17:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Just a couple thoughts/questions...
    If God didn't regret, and is all knowing, why not wipe it out and start over?
    Why start with Adam and Eve, certainly God knew what would come?
    Certainly God knew that there would be much evil again, ie Hitler, etc., why only destroy the one time?
    God promised to never flood the earth again, and has never wiped out all of man kind again. Why?
    Just for me (don't have much knowledge in this area) is it possible that the "great flood wasn't the "entire" earth? I mean they still thought the earth was flat right? Any comments or scripture, would love to hear.

  • At 9/07/2006 10:19:00 PM, Blogger From the Margins

    "Nacham" ... a Hebrew verb that the Hebrew lexicon's first and foremost meaning is: 'regret, to have regrets, a change of heart, relenting ... even repenting.

    Glad I Sam. 15 came up ... in vs. 11 the same word and thought is conveyed. God regrets making Saul king! (I'm sure that emotions of grieving and sorrow were part of God's regret) At this point, Saul knows his fate has been sealed and knows that, in this case, God is not going to change His mind. Saul makes a descriptive comment of his case, not a prescriptive for all times and situations.

    ... I see it as descriptive vs. prescriptive because I have the privilege of reading other biblical stories where God does change His mind.
    1. Ex. 32: 10-14 God regrets choosing Israel at this points and Moses contends with God to change His mind (nacham) about wiping out the nation of Israel and starting over with him ... God relents (nacham) to Moses plea - vs. 14.
    2. The whole book of Jonah is predicated on Jonah knowing that God would change His mind (4:2 nacham)and let mercy triumph over justice (and Jonah wasn't happy about it!)
    3. King Hezekiah pleads with God for his life and God changes his mind (nacham) and gives Hezekiah 15 more years.

    It comforts me that God is so interactive with His creation that He honors us with being willing to change His mind upon our entreating Him to have mercy. I believe His character doesn't change ... always operating out of Love, Mercy, etc., but changing His mind in terms of actions and decisions ... I have to say I see it in the biblical narrative.

    "Loving Presence" ... like it!

  • At 9/07/2006 11:01:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Thanks Sherri,
    I mentioned before and will again, I just finished "What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell?". It is not just about Hell, but Hell concepts, Judgement passages, reconciling God of the Old Testament through Christ, and where some of our ideas evolved about God's punishment/judgement "eternal" damnation etc. It really made me think about God in a totally different light. It helped me a great deal. I wonder as some others here have hinted at, that we focus a lot on the "punishing, judging God" when Christ was not at all this way. We have a hard time not seeing a different way. Tonight it surfaced in a very real way for me. We read almost nightly with our kids. I have been very careful about what details we give in Bible stories etc. My daughter (5yrs.) out of the blue asked if God will make her blind when she is bad. I wasn't sure where she got that. Then she mentioned a "Christian" movie that she watched at my sister-in-law's. I had not watched it, but obviously she was worried after seeing it. It is an animated preschool movie with a donkey in it. It just really hit me, "no wonder many of us struggle with seeing God in a different light", for many of us, the powerful-to be feared God is the first thing we learn about. Then we continue to hear about it our whole childhood.

  • At 9/08/2006 06:52:00 AM, Blogger Tiffanie

    Rather than giving my interpretation of the referenced Bible passages, I want to ask a question. Do you think that rather than God changing His mind, He could be using those instances to be changing ours? Maybe it is our minds and/or hearts toward decisions that are being changed. If you believe that God is all-knowing-If God decided to do "B" instead of "A", but knew all along He would end up doing "B", did He really change His mind? Maybe He was just helping us to come to some understanding or realization.

    Even if God had wiped everything out and started over, do you think men would still have chosen sin? God wants relationships with us, however not ones that are forced. I think that He wants us to choose Him.

  • At 9/08/2006 08:09:00 AM, Blogger From the Margins

    M: Wow ... what a story about your daughter! Whew! Very powerful and enlightening. Can I say I'm glad that I'm through the child rearing stage??? :-)

    CW - thanks for being so vulnerable and honest with us. Your story and ongoing journey is very valuable.

    T: Ahhh ... in your last paragraphs you mixed two monumental funky theological 'forever' debatable issues:

    1. a person's free choice (and as you intimated, the only true means of an authentic love/relationship)


    2. Total Sovereignty (of which the "All- Knowing" is wrapped up in. If God knows all Her and my decisions ahead of either of us making them, then how free of a decision was it?)

    Here we are, feminine theologians all in process, and warmly engaged in an age old tussle worthy of all the ancients! Selah. :-)

  • At 9/08/2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Tiffanie

    Just because the outcome is known by God, why isn't the choice free? I personally believe that God is all-knowing. In addition, I don't think that God wanted to create mindless beings to control, rather He desired beings whom He can have relationships with. What if the only way for God to have "Perfect" relationships with us is by allowing us to choose to do so? What if He already knows which of us will and who will not? Why would that make it any less of a "choice"?

    Thank you all for engaging in these discussions. Whether it is affirming my own theologies or opening my mind to new interpretations and my heart to unrealized truths, I really take a lot from these conversations.

  • At 9/08/2006 11:19:00 PM, Blogger Charlotte Wyncoop


    If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then God knows what will happen and chooses to change or not change things based on God's determination of what He will or will not interact with.

    To me, I translate that as "allowing". If we believe that God does still interact with our existence, then that opens the door to God intervening or not intervening according to His will. I believe there are principles at work outside of events, like the abuser's choise to abuse and my choices regarding how I reacted to the abuse. God didn't make it happen. But if we believe the passage that says "God will never give you more than you can bear," it also suggests that God can determine how much you can bear and then intervene and provide a way out.

    The other thing that influences my thinking on this, is that God's purposes are not mine. I would like the bad guys to have bad things happen and the good guys have good things happen. But, I think God's picture is bigger - I think His goal for us both individually and corporately is to become whom He created us to be. I also think He'll use whatever is at hand. Somewhere in the old testament prophets, God was described as a potter. It takes tremendous pressure from the potter's hand to form the shape that was originally intended. Why do we baulk and rail when bad things happen - aren't they redeemable/turnable to good purposes?

    I think this is a partnership between us and God. God doesn't cause the bad thing to happen, but He can use it to mold us into what He intended originally. We can choose to baulk and rail and refuse to be molded, or try to flow with the pressure and become something truly beautiful.

    Sorry, don't know how to be less wordy on very little sleep...

  • At 9/09/2006 12:08:00 AM, Blogger sylvia skinner

    I like to think of God as a redeemer rather than a molder or allower. It seems as if The Story as a whole reveals a redeeming God who has the power to take some of the ugliest things and make them into something beautiful.

    I have a hard time understanding why God would allow some things and not others. Why would God allow the holocaust and yet allow my husband to have a stroke with no after effects whatsoever? I truly believe that it was a miracle and that God had a hand in protecting us--something I simply cannot explain, but believe with all my heart--but I wonder if God has somehow chosen to limit himself (oops...male pronoun) in this world for reasons I may never really understand (open view of God, perhaps?).

  • At 9/09/2006 08:34:00 AM, Blogger From the Margins

    Combining my own experience and study, I resonate with Sylvia in knowing my Parent as redeemer. For me, 'allower' is a way to try and soften 'causer' by doing a little word gynmanstics.

    If I, as a parent, would have allowed my own children to touch a hot stove, stick their fingers in outlets, and run in the street so that (or until) they learned their lesson ... I think we might easily evaluate my parenting skills as bordering on crazy or abusive! If I know how to give good parenting wisdom/gifts to my own children ... certainly my heavenly Parent does even better than this.

    As I've opened my view of God, I embrace a Holy Parent who is actively involved in giving us preventative instruction, then hovering over and within us as we make choices and always actively involved in working to redeem some of our goofy choices, but also actively and joyfully magnifying others.

  • At 9/09/2006 05:15:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Again, I like your descriptions. I think that makes a lot of sense. Most of us don't allow our kids to get hurt intentionally, to teach a lesson. If they get hurt, however, we may use those moments to mold future behavior. That is how I see God. He loves us, and has much more power to mold us, so why would we think otherwise.

  • At 9/10/2006 06:42:00 AM, Blogger soldiermom

    It seems we are all talking about the same question: "How can I reconcile a "good" God working in an "evil" world?" That is a huge question.

    Maybe this is one of those areas where our faith is best tested. However it works, whatever the plan, God is in it. We can't abdicate our responsibility to repair our part of the world, but do we have enough faith to not have to have the question answered? Can we live with the unknown? Can we trust God with their* part in it and learn to trust each other better at the same time? OK…rambling here…and I am not so good at simply trusting God with all my junk. But can we lean that way more each day? Let’s let go of the need to know….and give a collective sigh.

    You go first! HA!! ;0)

    *PS God is he and she and Jesus and the Holy Spirit plus other stuff I am not aware of so why not use the plural form?...Just a crazy thought for another thread.

    Good Day

  • At 9/12/2006 09:32:00 AM, Blogger Michele L

    It's funny sometimes how things "pop-up". Just this week, I was reminded "again" how "the punishing God" is put out there. I received a forwarded e-mail from a cousin of mine and the title was "Don't Mock GOD". The contents were popular people like John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, popular political figures in the world etc., who "Mocked" God, and then died. It gave "when" they "Mocked" God in relation to when they died. It even gave the "tragic" ways/reasons for death. Then at the end a little (bribe) blurb about accepting Jesus. It really saddened me. I can't believe that people put those things together.


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