Does God Punish or Discipline?
This is a response to Alario’s questions on the Origins of Morality topic, as there seems to be a lot of conversation going on there already without diving into Penal Substitution!
Discpline vs Retribution:
(The below is just my thoughts, I don’t mean to assert them too strongly, but it’s aesthetically displeasing to keep putting “I think” in front of every statement)
The Old Testament talks much of God punishing Israel because of her sins. But looking at the context, God always seems to be doing so with a purpose to restore her and bring her back to himself. He causes suffering, not as a payment for sin, but in the hope that Israel will discover it can’t live without him. This is, in fact, a logical consequence of trying to live without God. God is the source of all good, so to pursue any good other than God is to pursue that which does not exist. Israel would have found this out eventually. But left to the natural workings of the Universe, such consequences would take too long to work themselves out, and might come too late to save them. God treated Israel like we treat a little child, imposing extra ‘punishments’ and ‘rewards’ on their actions to train them into holiness, knowing that their own maturity was not yet sufficient to see the natural consequences of their actions.
God also placed a restriction on Israel’s thirst for vengeance, with the dictum “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Human nature, when angered, will seek revenge greater than the wrong inflicted. The blows increase and increase, until they spiral out of control and become all-out war and utter destruction. This is because of human pride, the desire to have more or better than others. But God knew that Israel was not mature enough to see the fullness of his heart. So he taught them justice, as we might teach the alphabet to a kindergartener. He taught them “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” not because it is an ultimate principle, but because it restricts human beings from completely destroying one another.
Fast-forward fifteen hundred years. Jesus came to reveal the totality of God’s heart. He came to fulfil the law, not to abolish it. But what he says often looks like the abolishment of the law:
“You have heard it was said, love your friends and hate your enemies. But I say to you, love your enemies”
Anyone who truly understood the heart of Moses’ law would see that these things did not contradict it. They were a greater level of maturity. We are past kindergarten now. The justice that God instantiated was really driven by love. The law that God laid down was that we might love him and one another. Love is the summary, the consummation, the maturity, of the law.
We have sinned, which is bad. We are sinful at heart, which is far worse. But God forgives, God loves, God redeems, without needing satisfaction according to the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” model of justice. He doesn’t want us to live like that because he’s not like that.
So why did Jesus die? He died for us, doubtless. He died that we might live, agreed. The punishment (i.e. discipline) that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. But our punishment was not upon him. How could it be? It wouldn’t be our punishment anymore if it was. God punished Jesus because Jesus represented humanity, and represented Israel. Jesus started a new type of humanity.
We have sinned under Adam, and as long as we are connected to Adam by nature, we remain sinful and separated from God. Why? Not because God rejects us, but because we reject him. Jesus died and rose again so that our hearts could be changed, so that we could see the error of our ways and repent. If we connect ourselves to Jesus, by living according to his teachings - if we join ourselves to his nature by becoming like him, then we will die to our sinful natures and rise again into His nature. We shall be ‘in Christ’ instead of ‘in Adam’.
This is a very rapid overview of a complex topic. What do you think? Anything you disagree with or that needs clarifying?