blogging, books, debates, faith, humor, insanitybytes22, perfect love
With all good grace and humor, I have actually been stalking Danny Silk for some time now, prowling around in the rose bushes, offering some encouragement and enthusiasm for his latest book, “Unpunishable, Ending our Love Affair with Punishment.”
Why? Because I think it is a discussion we really need to be having, one that is long past due. A bit funny because many of those discussions have been happening already, sight unseen. There is nothing quite like having a great, heated, book discussion with people who haven’t even read the book yet.
Ha! Actually, I would normally just call that, “a Bible study.” Don’t yell at me, y’all know it’s often the truth…..
So, the very fact that Danny Silk’s provocative title has caused so much resistance, so much concern, so much fear, has only convinced me to double down, to insist that we do indeed have a love affair with punishment, and that much of what is wrong in the world is rooted somewhere in there.
D Patrick Collins has come back from his travels and has now written two essays outlining some of his concerns, in a thoughtful manner. Here they are for your perusal, “Unpunishable, Hell and Wrath” and “Unpunishable: Part 2” All in good fun here, but we shall just call him, “the loyal opposition.”
First a moment of solidarity, some agreement. The “alleged wrath” of God is linked to the power of God, to the authority of God. Why do I say “alleged wrath?” Because it is an old testament term, a woefully inadequate word based on human subjective experiences with the Divine. I am all about the power and authority of God. The wrath of God, as in anger towards us, not so much. I think that’s all wrong and it grants us power, control, we just don’t have.
The purpose of those words in the Bible was not to convince everyone that God is a grumpy old man, wrathful, out of control, angry with us, and prepared to mete out harsh punishment on a whim. And yet, that is indeed what many believe, and no matter how deeply buried, you can still see it in their fruit.
I just love a good storm, to see the waves crashing, branches falling, the wind roaring, the angry skies open up, and the wrath of the Lord pour out of the clouds. One of these days I shall be swept away for sure, but you’ll notice that the words that I have used are all about allegory and metaphor. It is highly unlikely that God sent a storm because He was filled with wrath towards me and having a Divine tantrum, and certainly not a storm that is sure to just delight my entire soul. I however, have no other words but “wrath, anger, and roaring,” to describe the immense power and authority hidden in the wind.
That is very similar to how the prophets of old tried to describe events and the nature of God using human terminology and references. It’s all we got to work with, but it doesn’t do God justice, nor is it intended as a literal description of His feelings towards us.
Do I think we are sometimes in danger of presenting Jesus exclusively as the gentle Lamb, the non threatening Babe in a Manger, and forget that He is also the King of Kings, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah? I do! We have a tendency to want to make God smaller, safer, more manageable, safely tucked within our comfort zones. That is the other extreme, the other side of the road where there is a ditch, also.
So a bit if personal testimony here, I definitely had a love affair with punishment, and with justice, too! Absolutely. It took a long time to get to the point where I was willing to even consider letting go of my rights, like my right to revenge, my right to punishment, my right to control, my right to live in a neatly ordered world where bad things happen to bad people and good things happen to good people. I like things tidy and within my comprehension. The world is untidy and beyond my comprehension.
Religious people, quite a few of them, tend to separate Jesus from God, almost as if they were two completely different beings. The Father kills His only Son in an act of horrific wrath, all because He is mad at us. Cosmic child abuse and it’s allegedly your sin that made God mad. Or else the really pagan version, Jesus as the virgin sacrifice to the angry volcano god. He gave up His life to protect us from His mean Father.
You can laugh at these ideas and dismiss them, but I assure you, I’ve spent the last five years getting screamed at and eventually banned and blocked, often by pastors teaching and preaching those very things. Dozens of them. In fact, I’d say it’s more common than not! It’s a bit comical, because if you serve this God of wrath who thrives on revenge and punishment, odds are pretty good you are going to reflect that same behavior yourself. Trust me, they do! I have the bruises. We do tend to try to remake God into our own image, rather than letting Him remake us into His.
So I’ve spent a great deal of time researching this problem, mostly because I am a complete moron. And I haven’t done it once but over and over again, because that truly is the definition of insanity. Also, apparently the whole notion of rewards and punishments doesn’t work very well on me. When you come from a chaotic background with a lot of abuse you just learn really quick that no good deed goes unpunished, anyway.
The punishment paradigm we often try to live with in the world around us is a totally man made paradigm. We want sin punished and good people rewarded. We want to feel a sense of control. Then the most virtuous man you know gets stricken with MS and the bad guy has a rich uncle die and leave him a million bucks and people just lose their whole faith. That is because we make idols out of our own love affair with punishment. We totally do not reap what we sow in that manner. God does not live within our man made punishment paradigms and the entire Bible presents evidence of this truth.
John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
We want good works rewarded, grace handed out to the worthy, but withheld from those we don’t approve of. That’s just human nature, that speaks to our need for control, but it is not what Jesus taught us.
Jesus did not come to punish us for our sins. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Nor did He come to protect us from His wrathful Father because they are one. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This false, perceived separation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, does so much damage to our own relationship with Him.
Has anybody ever heard of triangulation in psychology? Well, I about fell over, not sure whether to laugh or cry when I discovered that we actually try to play out that very same dysfunctional dynamic within the Trinity!
It’s not a “theological over reach” at all to let go of our love affair with punishment, it’s actually the whole gospel. Punishment and wrath are not the most powerful forces in the world, love is, and God is love. Jesus came down, the Word made flesh, to help us understand these truths. It is not God who sees through the glass darkly, but us.
I did not willingly let go of my love affair with punishment, it took a lot of meditating on the woman with the perfume, the nard. The Bible says, “This is the reason why I tell you that her sins, her many sins, are forgiven–because she has loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Grace is very reflective. We ourselves can only receive what we are willing to extend. And we can only extend what we are willing to receive.
Our desire for condemnation, for revenge, for punishment, against ourselves and against others, separates us from God. As Danny Silk has so often taught there are really only two states of being, love and connection or separation and anxiety.
Separation and anxiety are the default. Jesus is the love and connection. There is no in-between.
Wikipedia actually has a pretty good write up of the different theories of atonement, most of which make no claim to being exhaustive. It helps to remember that Calvin’s penal substitution is one theory out of many.
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Good point. There are many different theories of atonement, above and beyond Calvin’s penal substitution theory.
From my perspective and experience, the affair stems from our natural human tendency for self doubt and longing which can only be resolved with an intimate relationship with God- Father,Son & Spirit . The frailty is instilled in us by our creator that we will want to seek and find Him
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Absolutely. Well said. I also believe we are designed to seek Him, that our longing for Him is instilled in us.
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A book discussion with people who never read the book……………. uh oh…
Reminds me of many experiences (personal) that helped chisel present day such resolute and concrete scriptural thinking, especially in the area of bible study- hearing people in the ‘circle’ say ‘well I think…………..’
………….and naturally my critical antennae says, ‘uh, no, you really have not THOUGHT about it, and maybe have never read it.
Daniel in the lion’s living room? Ha, surely a fable meant to inspire the fearful. A dream interpreter? Nope, just a bedtime story to satisfy the weary mind. OR. both the dreams WERE told, AND the lions did not eat, just as it says.
God does not ask us to suspend our common sense, and if we were we serious about such things, we would read with intellect as well as heart. And faith knows the difference. But you a complete moron? Compared to who? Ha! now that’s punishment to sort and sift through history’s dunce list.
Fortunately, greater is He that is in you………… 😉
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Hmmm, good points, Colorstorm. A story can be all of the above, a literal statement of events and a metaphorical one at the same time. We need not choose one or the other as if both cannot be true at the same time. The tale of the good Samaritan is an example, the value and worth of the tale is not dependent on having the name, address, and DNA of our wounded traveler. Even Jesus often spoke in parables to us and those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear will understand, and the others will demand historical proof for the existence of that man who went and sold everything and bought a field with treasure hidden in it. I do believe in the real lions, the dreams, and Daniel, but also in the lessons to be learned from them.
Thank you InsanityB for the reblog! And I like the title “loyal opposition”: I suppose it is my duty at the very least to show up in the comments section, sort of like when two people have a formal debate and each have their fifteen minutes, and then there is that time for back-and-forth response. So here goes.
First, of all places on the planet I consider God’s Kingdom being made manifest on earth, Bethel (Danny Silk’s church) is one of them. It is my tribe. As you probably know, I attended Bethel for years and would still be attending were it not for a geographical move. I regularly still attend when I can make it back to my home.
Second, I too believe we have a love affair with punishment, meaning we think our relationship with God is one based on our performance and not His grace. The more we recognize His grace has ushered us into the truth we are unpunishable, the better off we are.
But “love affair with punishment” needs to be defined if we are going to have a fruitful discussion. If it means our tendency to punish ourselves, or to think we are about to be punished, and to live in fear of punishment despite what Jesus accomplished at the Cross, then there is no discussion, because there is 100% agreement. But if “love affair with punishment” means the doctrinal belief that sin and evil before a holy God is a problem, that it literally demands punishment, and this is the very thing Jesus accomplished at the Cross for us, and that belief is in dispute, then that is where the discussion lies. Of course, if so, then “love affair with punishment” does not really fit the crime here. A better term would be “belief Jesus paid for our sins.”
So if I may direct the debate here (this rarely works in my experience by the way by I will try anyway!), my question to you and others would be simply this: Why did Jesus go to the Cross? More pointedly: Did Jesus go to the Cross to achieve forgiveness of our sins? And if so, who demanded that forgiveness? Did God?
If we can establish this point, then we can work our way outward to find where our real differences lie.
We ARE unpunishable because of God’s grace, and God’s grace — literally “unmerited favor” — was a thing (by definition) we did not deserve but Jesus achieved for us with His very life. I am fully prepared to support anyone who says we are unpunishable on that basis; I am just not prepared to say our unpunishable state cost Jesus nothing.
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Welcome back from your travels, and no duty to respond is required at all, but I am delighted to hear from you. So why did Jesus go to the cross? One of my favorite portrayals is from CS Lewis in his Narnia series, where he kind of weaves together ransom theory with substitution. So the witch has earned her right to the children, she has followed the rules, she has worked within the law and stolen them fair and square. It is she who demands her pound of flesh and so Aslan fulfills the law by sacrificing himself in Edwin’s place.
God did not demand payment for sin, the devil did. Jesus came to fulfull the law, not to satisfy the Father’s alleged wrath.
I get concerned when we say things like, “sin and evil before a holy God is a problem, that it literally demands punishment.” Well, even Cain was protected and set free. The adulteress about to be stoned. There is nothing in the Bible, at least not in the new testament that points to sin and evil literally demanding punishment. In fact, the precise opposite, grace is scandalous, those who warrant punishment go free. Also, the idea that sin and evil before a Holy God is a problem, implies that God has problems, that sin and evil is bigger than He is. If it ever was a problem, it is a problem He fixed, and it is finished now, so it can no longer be a problem. Also, Jesus was Holy, Divine, and He dinned with sinners, He walked with sinners. Jesus is our Lord in the flesh and He did not flee from sin and evil, in fact, he sought it out and addressed it. I think that is a far better representation of the Father’s heart, than a Holy God who cannot be near us because we are tainted.
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Thank you cliffsofinsanity! It is good to be back. I also want to thank you for starting this discussion, because I believe it is an important one to have.
Let me do my best to not go in 50 directions here by responding to just two points, which actually might turn out to be the same point. The question is not whether God is a good guy or bad but whether our sins deserve punishment. See if we think our sins do not deserve punishment, then obviously we will think ANYONE who thinks they do to be a bad guy: mean in fact. On the other hand, if we are convinced our sins deserve punishment, we will not think anyone who agrees with us is bad but rather just and truthful. We keep thinking the discussion is whether God is a good guy or not. My personal belief is that we believe our sin is just not that big of a deal, so we keep putting God on the stand instead of ourselves — and in the process downgrading both grace and the Cross. That is point one.
Point two (the main point): “God did not demand payment for sin. The devil did.” In the spirit of friendly touche, “there is nothing in the Bible that ever says this” either 🙂 But you do believe sin demands a payment, then — a point we both agree on. So let’s assume your point: That God does not demand payment for sin; the devil does. That God does not believe in punishing sin and never has. That sin literally is punitively neutral. It is like playing badminton. But the devil thinks it is worthy of punishment. The question then becomes: Why would God Almighty, whose compassion toward us knows no bounds, allow the opinion of a created being to trump the extravagant affection He has for His creation?
In my mind, there are only three possibilities: 1) The devil is more powerful than God, 2) God set the rules and does not care enough to change them for our sake 3) There is something more powerful than God preventing him from changing the rules He does not agree with.
For me, the New Testament is not the message that our sins do not deserve punishment but rather what God chose to do about it. And that is what makes grace so absolutely scandalous. Cheers.
“Why would God Almighty, whose compassion toward us knows no bounds, allow the opinion of a created being to trump the extravagant affection He has for His creation? ”
That is precisely what He did though, isn’t it? I mean, we ourselves are the created. His compassion grants the created beings the ability to trump His extravagant affection. The enemy has no power over us, but we as created beings are allowed to listen to the enemy all we want.
I see what you are saying in regards to sin. You believe we will take it more seriously if we perceive it as punishable. I believe that line of thinking has caused us a great deal of trouble, going back to butter indulgences. Eating butter on certain days was considered a sin and so a price had to be paid, punishment received so we could thus sin. And so the church sold butter indulgences. Soon “sin,” became meaningless, sin being something you could simply pay the price for, purchase the right to enjoy and indulge in. So in my way of thinking, punishment actually lessons the weight of sin, it bypasses the heart problem, and the whole reason why we avoid sin becomes simply fear, to avoid punishment. In that case, people aren’t being virtuous because they love the virtue or the Virtue Giver, they are just faking virtue on account of the fact that they are cowards.
That’s a harsh indictment, but I believe it’s a huge part of what ails so many of us within Western Christianity. The Bible does tell us it’s the kindness of God that leads to repentance, and not punishment.
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Hi InsanityB! I think we need a “redo” on my question. To be clear(er): I am not asking why God would give us the freedom to choose to be delivered from the penalty of sin (a thing He purchased with his own life). I am asking why he would subject us to ANY penalty in the first place, simply because the one entity in all of creation who hates us thinks we should be so subjected. Hope that makes sense.
I will respond to your second point separately to make it easier for others to contribute.
“You believe we will take it more seriously if we perceive it as punishable.”
Nah, that does not enter my line of thinking at all, you will be happy to hear. I agree that way of thinking is corrosive to all things in the Kingdom, for it is the act of God forgiving our sins and making us blameless before Him through Jesus’ death on the Cross that is our entrance to the Kingdom. To the extent we still fear punishment is the extent we remain cut off from not only what is true about God’s goodness but what is true about ourselves. (I told you I have been part of Bethel’s culture for years 😉 ).
If there is any reason I believe sin is punishable, it is because that is what I believe the Bible actually says. But if you are wanting to know what is at stake by believing sin is NOT punishable (i.e. what is at stake), I would say the authority of Scripture, hell and ultimately the Cross. If God is too good to punish sin, we will have quite a time knowing what to do with not only the Old Testament but most of Scripture. And if He is too good to punish sin, then He is certainly too good to send people to a place of eternal punishment. And if He is too good for that, providing us a way out of it becomes rather pointless. This may not be where we are now, but I predict without a theological course correction, that is where things are heading. I do hope and pray that is not the case.
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Perhaps the conflict here has something to do with how we are defining “punishable?” The wages of sin are death, so we’ve been paid. Sin has wages, consequences. God doesn’t have to “do” anything. Sin is the default.
Many people are concerned about the authority of scripture, and concerned that the whole foundation falls apart if we take away the punishment paradigm. And that in turn tends to really concern me, because it means we have built our faith not around Jesus, not around love, not around grace, but around the law, around fear, power, and control.
Take for instance a heroin addict, pretty much already reaping the wages of sin. What is the purpose of God punishing him? What does the threat of hell mean to someone already living in it?
I believe in the authority of scripture, the problem being the punishment paradigm is too small, too limited, too man made, and rather than protecting the authority of scripture, we weaken it. Our gospel has now become somewhat disjointed, illogical.
“Perhaps the conflict here has something to do with how we are defining “punishable?” The wages of sin are death, . . . sin has wages, consequences. God doesn’t have to “do” anything. Sin is the default.”
I think what you are saying is “the wages of sin is death” means death is a natural consequence of sin, not a penalty. You are framing sin in an amoral context. I would have two problems with that. The first is that this is quoted from the book of Romans the entire context of which is a moral framework. Just a few ticks up from this verse in fact Paul writes, “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from GODS WRATH through him! For if, while WE WERE GODS ENEMIES, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” If sin were an amoral act with merely natural consequences, it would not put us under God’s wrath, nor make us God’s enemies. According to Romans, sin does both.
The second problem is even if we granted that sin were amoral and its consequences purely natural, it would mean God created a world that caused suffering, even though such suffering had no justification. And if we can believe the Bible that sin cannot be avoided, it would mean God created a world where unjustified suffering was unavoidable. That is called senseless suffering. If our goal is to try to divest God of any role in sin’s consequence to preserve His goodness, it isn’t working.
I will respond to your other point separately 🙂
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“Many people are concerned about the authority of scripture, and concerned that the whole foundation falls apart if we take away the punishment paradigm.”
I do not know who the “many” are, but I for one do not think taking away the “punishment paradigm” is what causes the whole foundation to fall apart. It is the extent to which we are willing to go to support ANY idea about God that does not align with scripture that has that capability. That is, I do not believe people are wringing there hands saying, “Give up on the idea of punishment? E-gad! The world is coming to an end!” I think what is happening is people are seeing the extent to which some are willing to go to recast God, Scripture and the entire Christian message to support their own ideas about God’s goodness (namely that He is too good to punish sin) that have people a bit worried about the foundation. I love Silk, but if you read his book, he pretty much does away with the idea that Jesus death on the Cross had anything to do with actually forgiving sin: Jesus went to the Cross to demonstrate we did not need forgiveness in the first place. The idea that God is too good to punish is not the problem; the fact we are willing to sacrifice the concept of an actual forgiveness being achieved by a very real death by the divine Son of God should have us all nervous. The question at some point has to be: Why are we willing to go this far to support our own ideas about who God is or should be? Because at the point we are sacrificing both Scripture and doctrine, it isn’t because of the Word of God.
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Well, you’re in good company D Patrick Collins! The vast majority are going to agree with you. I don’t believe I’m sacrificing scripture or doctrine, but that really is a prevalent thought, especially in the modern West. I could not disagree with us more strongly. 🙂
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Me too 🙂 It is news to me that the vast majority would agree with my position; then again, I do not get out much. Thanks for providing the opportunity. Till next time 😉
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