Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Punishment has a Purpose

In an email discussion with a dear friend who does not agree with me that God's plan is to reconcile the world to himself at the consummation of the ages, he points to the punishments handed out by God, mainly in the OT but also in the New, to demonstrate God's intention to exclude unbelievers from ever enjoying peace with God.

He suggests that because the wrath of God, which leads to vengeance, punishment and death, is an integral part of God's character, it will not change, but continue throughout time, and beyond.
He implies that this "fact" combined with the belief that all decisions effecting eternity are made during lifetimes on earth, shows clearly that most of creation will not make it into eternity.

In my response I suggest that God's wrath is directed towards sin, those things that cause us to miss the target of bearing the image of God, and needs to be seen in relation to his love, mercy, etc..
Interestingly, he has written a paragraph which describes this beautifully ...

There are a number of aspects to the judgment and ‘wrath of God’ that is worth mentioning and which have partially been alluded to. First is that the love of God and the wrath of God are perfectly compatible and can perhaps best be seen in the Cross which shows us the self-giving gracious act of God’s Son paying the price of the wrath of God against sin which Jesus bore. God’s anger and wrath is against sin or sinners that profane his holiness and righteousness, that hurts others, that reduces our love for God and one another. God has in view our good and anything that interferes with that is the object of his anger and wrath. Our lack of wisdom cannot often see what is good for us individually and collectively but God has total supreme wisdom and all the attributes of his character, his love, mercy, grace, holiness, justice, patience, compassion, faithfulness, wisdom, sovereign power and yes wrath…. work together seamlessly.
I have followed up with the following comments ...

If "God has in view our good" and we believe God when he says he is the Saviour of the world (1 Tim 4: 10), then however God interacts with us, even bringing death, has to be seen for our good in some way and a part of the process of fulfilling his role as Saviour of the world.

If we believe God when he says he will bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Eph 1:10), all aspects of his character and dealings issuing from them must be working towards this end (even if our lack of wisdom prevents us from seeing it).
In other words, God's wrath, punishment, vengeance, etc. are not ends in themselves, but stepping stones to God's predestined end.

This is why I consider our starting point to be vital in appreciating what God might be doing in his various interactions with mankind.

My starting point, illustrated by 1 Tim and Eph and other references, allows me to see that no matter what calamities have eventuated in someone's life on earth, even destruction by God himself, God's love and predetermined plan will always bring them into sweet fellowship with God in the future.

Those with a Calvinistic starting point, belief that God has divided humanity into two groups, the elect and the lost, do not allow millions of people to ever see the love, kindness, mercy or grace of God, or allow the work of Christ on the cross to be as successful as God designed it would be.

Those with an Arminian starting point, belief that mankind has free will and chooses his own eternal destiny during his lifetime on earth, not only confine those who make poor choices to be forever lost, but proclaim that God's will can be trumped by man's will - God is not sovereign.

Believing what God himself says in His Word about his intentions for his creation produces a Biblically more consistent theology for me.

Blessings, Barry

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