“How can you trust a God who is just waiting to punish you?” A fair question and honest fear. What is the point of believing in a god who spends their time handing down rules so that they can pronounce judgement? We’ve all seen the placards and heard the edicts from preachers, “This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee…” I Samuel 17:45a In short, do as I say, or there is a quick and ready punishment waiting.
Rules and bounderies
As with many mistaken biblical concepts, the roots of this perspective are more deeply linked to people in power than the truth of God’s plan or the original meaning of the bible. Certainly, there are rules in the bible and there are boundaries of behavior. Generally, these reflect the parameters for living as genuine humans interested in wholeness and peace (for more on this read post 1). Consider the 10 commandments given in Exodus 20. These rules are guidelines for living within a peaceful community. Stealing, murder, sleeping with your neighbor’s spouse, lying and purgery, and keeping up with the Jones’ are all behaviors that lead to harm within our communities. The first five are about protecting the relationship established between God and people at the beginning of the story – Genesis 1. They are not arbitrary rules meant to keep us in line; rather they are the rules of engagement, so to speak.
The remainder of the bible follows the same pattern. God wants us to act as humans – images of Him living in peace and helping the earth develop and grow. But humans don’t do those things. They do all the others – lie, steal, take each other’s spouses, hold power over each other, disrespect the rules of engagement — over and over and over. Without a doubt, humans can really suck at being humane.
He doesn’t hate you
Certainly, God gets frustrated at how they hurt each other and dismiss Him. Afterall, the point is for humans to reflect God in how we live and work and relate to each other. So something must be done. Enter grace through Jesus.
You may have been taught that God hates you or is mad at you or is looking forward to sending you to hell. Those are lies.
Resolution & reconciliation
God does not hate you, He is not looking for ways or opportunities to punish you. The point is not punishment. It’s resolution and reconciliation. The point is peace. We fail at being human, God invites us back to connection with Him, as we were originally meant to live.
Jesus, after a scathing rebuke to several towns who were wholly uninterested in acknowledging God or the proffered relationship, follows with these beautiful words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-29)
If it were about punishment, the second part would have no place. He calls out the inhuman behavior and then offers the alternative. Reconciliation with Him and lasting personal peace.