Crime and Punishment
It’s hard for me to think of God as someone who will punish me when I sin. I like to think of God as loving, kind, and “working things out for my good.” Surely a kind and loving God won’t punish ME for my sins. It’s also nice to think that if anyone messes with me, they’ll be punished by God. I have a protector! I have a friend!
But what does happen when I sin? Especially when I don’t repent?
I encountered a situation recently where I discovered sin in my heart. I hadn’t really taken the time to examine my heart in a while. I was too busy being in love, planning a wedding, and setting up a new home. What sin could I commit anyway? Life was so good. But God got my attention, returning my mind to something I’d done months ago. I’d questioned myself at the time of the decision, wondering if it might be wrong, but I was in a hurry and quickly allowed myself to believe a lie. I wasn’t really cheating; I was receiving a blessing from the Lord. It’s amazing how quickly we can give in to total deception – convincing ourselves of a lie in the hopes that the sin in our hearts won’t be revealed.
Who was I kidding? God knew. And yet I went on for months without facing it. Until that morning when God would no longer allow me to stick my head in the sand and try to pretend like it hadn’t happened. And then my knowledge of the sin became so much greater. What I did was a sin, but the reasons I did it were revealed to me, causing me to hang my head in shame.
I thought I’d conquered that enemy – fear. I thought I’d stopped making decisions out of fear and had started living my life in total trust and submission to the Lord. But there was that one hold out, that one decision I had made that highlighted my fear. In a moment of weakness, I stopped trusting God to provide for me, to protect and keep me, and I grasped what I could get for myself, sacrificing my integrity in the process. Ugh.
As I repented, understanding for the first time why the men of old tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads, I immediately felt God’s forgiveness. He does love me. He is kind. And most of all, He forgives.
But my sin did not go without punishment. Because I hadn’t been able to trust God to take care of me and I attempted to take care of myself, I was allowed to have what I had held onto so tightly. It was meager and small. God’s gracious blessings are abundant and wild. He let me have my pathetic treasure, and I believe His heart was sad because I blocked Him from lavishing me with His amazing generosity.
We view God’s punishment as some hammer in the sky, waiting to smash us. What we don’t realize is that His punishment is often that He simply gives us what we’ve earned for ourselves. It’s small and meaningless, plastic coins with a coat of glitter. If we could just learn to trust Him, if I could just learn to trust Him, we’d find treasure beyond our imagination.
Rick is my treasure beyond imagination. He’s the pure gold coins buried at the bottom of the ocean, just waiting for the right time and place to be found. He is the perfect example of the way God blesses when we let go and trust Him to provide. Through his love, God has poured out His wild and lavish love on me. I stand in awe.
But the small and mean part of my heart is still vulnerable to lies. I cannot become too confident, too quick to make decisions. Losing my peace with God, feeling the grief of knowing I missed out on another of His amazing blessings because of my own pride, is not worth it. I want to see God as kind and loving, but how is that different from the God who loves us so much that He allows us to suffer for a little while in order to understand the fullness of that love? The suffering, the punishment, gave me greater clarity. I’m now able to see how much God loves me, how kind He wants to be to me – if I will just stop trying to do things myself, make my own way, and grasp at straws.