Does God Punish?

Do you think God punishes?

I don’t. I know people will likely disagree, and that’s okay. Let’s talk.

I recently heard a preacher declare with absolute certainty that God is punishing a particular group for a particular action. He offered Old Testament scriptural examples and the opinion of “every major Christian leader” as evidence.

Ever notice when someone pronounces God’s judgment on some group or action, it’s nearly always a political position with which they disagree? They’re absolutely certain God’s about to strike down that person or group or nation because of some especially heinous sin.

When those same folks acknowledge their own failures and sins, the conversation shifts. Suddenly it’s all about grace and forgiveness and God’s infinite capacity for new beginnings.

Apparently God has some sort of “sin hierarchy” that forgives some and punishes others, and somehow the speaker is always on the forgiveness side.


I taught math to adolescents for thirty-five years. I came to believe that nothing positive resulted from a bunch of rules and punishments. I believe I learned that from God.

My classroom operated on one simple principle:

This class is a circle, and in this circle EVERYONE gets treated with dignity and respect.

I would have preferred “everyone is loved” but that would have required far too much discussion in a classroom filled with young adolescents.

I did everything I could to avoid any notion of punishment. Punishment is rooted in coercion and threats, sort of a “Do it my way or I’ll hurt you” model. I decided it made no sense to try to instill a love of learning using that model.

I think that’s God’s model. He designed us for love, but love can’t be coerced.

Punishment and coercion are always artificial, and they’re about power and control. Here’s an example.

“If you cheat I’ll lower your grade” is a coercive threat based on my power to control your behavior. The punishment (lower grade) isn’t naturally connected to the act of cheating. It transforms cheating from a moral issue into a criminal act, and may in fact serve to create more efficient cheaters. The punishment, after all, depends on getting caught.

The punishment model is necessarily adversarial—you try to get away with as much as possible, and it’s my job to catch you. We’re no longer on the same team.

Consequences are entirely different. Remember my “dignity and respect” principle? If you choose to cheat, you’ve treated yourself, your classmates, and me (the teacher’s in the circle, too) disrespectfully. You’ve violated the principle, and as with any relationship, we have a conflict to resolve.

But if you continually choose to violate the single principle of the class, you’re removing yourself from the circle. Your behavior has natural consequences, obvious to everyone. No threats, no coercion. No punishment. I still care about you and treat you with dignity and respect.

I believe that’s God’s model.

One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

EVERYBODY in the circle gets loved.

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Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site

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