Sin and punishment are in no antagonism to each other in man, any more than pardon and punishment are in God; they can perfectly co-exist. The one naturally follows the other. Sin and suffering are not opposites; the opposite of evil is good, not suffering; the opposite of sin is not suffering, but righteouness. The path across the gulf that divides right from wrong is not the fire, but repentance. If my friend has wronged me, will it console me to see him punished? Will his agony be a balm to my deep wound? But would not the shadow of repentant grief, the light of reviving love on his countenance, heal it at once, however deep? Take any of those wicked people in Dante’s hell, and ask wherein is justice served by their punishment. Mind, I am not saying it is not right to punish them; I am saying that justice is not, never can be, satisfied by suffering. Human resentment, human revenge, human hate may be so satisfied. Such justice as Dante’s keeps wickedness alive in its most terrible forms. Is God not defeated every time that one of those lost souls defies him? God is triumphantly defeated throughout the hell of his vengeance. The notion that a creature born with impulses to evil not of his own generating, and which he could not help having, a creature to whom the true face of God was never presented, should be thus condemned, is a loathsome lie against God. It never in truth found place in any heart, though in many a pettifogging brain. There is but one thing lower than deliberately to believe such a lie, and that is to worship the God of whom it is believed.
Justice, Mercy, Fear and Punishment
by Dave Roney
Christ stands at the wasp-waist of history, being the first to openly declare the great Mystery of the Ages, the eternal truth in God which had been hidden from men (not that God hid the matter, but because of the hardness of men's heart they could not see) that salvation is the will of God for all people everywhere. Men of old, by their Scriptures, had clearly pronounced and demonstrated that this Will could never be frustrated, that God would work all His will against and overcoming every impediment of men and demons; and they, by that alone if by no other, had thus set the stage for reception of this “good news” which our Lord openly proclaimed; that the intractable Will is that none should perish.
I will not here attempt to expose the pervasive teaching, the everywhere calling, the breaking down of all barriers of separation and distinction, which Christ proclaimed, lived, and died with the very words of comprehensive and all inclusive Life-giving forgiveness and restoration dripping from His lips—these are manifold, and are golden nuggets lying in clear view on the surface of the lifeless tundra of moral and religious thought. The Apostles took up the anthem in their books and epistles, proclaiming the message with an abundance of references to the “all” of humanity, even going beyond that to include Nature itself, a coming total reclamation and restoration of all things whatsoever in Christ Jesus, revealing His superimposing and consummate Victory, with the proclamation that where sin and death had reached a high tide mark in the world, love and grace and Life came through Him as a tsunami which crashed upon, cascaded over, and entirely inundated the worlds, thoroughly sweeping away every obstacle in its path, to the supra-tidal redemption of all which God had or has created or shall ever create.
It is against this backdrop, the first formatter upon which is based all right insight and knowledge of the Holy, that I begin; yet it is not my beginning, no original thought rising from me; for I but stand in the shadow of those who came before me and even now surround me, beginning with Christ Himself, then the Apostles, followed by the early Christians and the Church fathers to this day. It is upon this glad message that God's salvation extends harmlessly, helpfully, and healingly to every creature, that God is Love, that Christ is that Love personified, that the physical brotherhood of all men is crowned by the spiritual brotherhood, flowing from the heart of the Father even as blood flowed from His wounded Son, of an inextinguishable desire eternally emitting from Him to reconcile His children to Himself, and that nothing in heaven, or on earth, or in the pit of some sordid Hell could ever, ever, prevent Him from finally drawing all those children to His knee and then into His heart. It was by this simple yet unsearchable, profound, message that the early Christians, sans New Testament (which would not for several centuries be gathered into one) turned the Roman empire on its head, destroyed the bastion of evil paganism, frustrated the rulers of darkness in high places, and did more within two centuries to change the world than the Church has been able to accomplish in all the ensuing centuries.
It was not until the end of the fifth century that the Latinized theology of an Augustine of Hippo gained the preeminence within Western Christianity, and gradually was it accepted by the leading theologians, that pernicious doctrine of the eternal damnation, and not the eventual reclamation of lost souls. The “all” of Christ's message of salvation became the “some” of the Church. That pernicious doctrine was fully exploited, refined and amended through the centuries, until the concept of a universal reconciliation was nearly abandoned in whole, even coming to be understood as a heresy and thereby condemned. Anselm refined it, later Calvin, and the Church, in the main, has been hostage to it to this day—both branches, the Catholic and the Protestant, claim it, teach it, and thus show God our Father to be the object of Fear. Thankfully, and mercifully, there has been from about the seventeenth century a growing resurgence, a return, to the early understanding of redemption. MacDonald was among those in that return, yet not by any means alone; by our day the message of God's redemptive mercy upon our race is exponentially spreading throughout the West; we now take up the theme currently under investigation; “Unto Thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy...”
“The one deepest, highest, truest, most wholesome suffering must be generated in the wicked by a vision of the hideousness of their lives, of the horror of the wrongs they have done.”
The common, or popular, or mainstream, theology of our day has it that suffering is the demonstration of God's retribution on the world because of sin; to this claim I heartily deny, being emphatic that what is a consequence cannot be confuted with a cause. If a man does his math wrong he will, as a consequence, arrive at the wrong sum—the wrong sum is not the cause of the man's error but the result of it. Do you not hear old Joseph's words to his brothers; “You meant it for evil against me, but God meant it for good, that many people would be kept alive?” The man using his ciphers incorrectly will, in time, be driven to learn how to add correctly—it is a thing he would not otherwise trouble himself with, except his wrong math will cost him personally, and dearly, i.e. cause him to suffer; he will by this suffering be driven to learn rightly and to add accordingly. Thus it is, from the Divine perspective, that the evil of suffering is used by God to produce the good. It is a hard thing. Hard, that is, to understand and accept that suffering is not the handmaiden of Death but Life.
The quoted line, which speaks of “the hideousness of their lives” and “the horror of the wrongs they have done” is incomplete; it must be understood within the context of a further line, which reads “When a man begins to loathe himself, he has begun to be saved. Punishment tends to this result.” You see now deeper into the matter: It is more than a hideous life, more also than wrongs done—it is the Self-abhorring of the man himself, he who is behind and responsible for the hideousness and the wrongs. A man might, through sophistication, learn to control his urges and not do the hideous thing, to do no more wrongs—he might become such as was the rich young ruler who came to Christ that day and went away sad—such a man might become superficially superior, but then he would be no more than a polished marble sepulcher, appealing to the eye but filled with the stench of death. God is not content to prune the noxious plant but will pull it up by its root and destroy it:
“Punishment tends to this result. Not for its own sake, not as a make-up for sin, not for divine revenge—horrible word—not for any satisfaction to justice, can punishment exist. It is for the sake of amendment and atonement. God is bound by His love to punish sin in order to deliver His creature; He is bound by His justice to destroy sin in His creation. Love is Justice—the fulfilling of the Law, for God as well as for His children.”
Suffering, I say, is no handmaiden of Death but of Life; the Punishment of God is not therefore retributive but redemptive in nature; the Justice of God is, distilled to a single phrase, “fair play,” and thereby He renders to every man according to his works: It would be unfair to men, and exponentially more so to God, should we surmise that Omniscience should deliberately create beings, born frail, made a little lower than the angels, living but a moment in time, and then consign them, being finite, to Infinite perpetual, conscious, exquisite, torture beyond imagining forever and ever, eternally so; that would be no God of Love, no god at all, but the caricature of an Omnipotent Demon, a pagan deity, a false god, an idol, a subject of scorn to be rejected as unworthy of us.
There is Divine Wrath to be sure; it is the smoldering, burning, explosive, hatred of Almighty God directed toward and focused exclusively on all Evil. It is not directed toward the creature but what is in the creature which separates him from the loving arms of his Father. God will not rest until all which is unlike Him, unlike our Christ, which dwells in the heart and mind of the creature, His child, has been utterly destroyed. The theologians have in the main taught a God Whose wrath is centered on the sinner and not the sin; they have portrayed Him as vindictive and hateful, and that were it not for Jesus stepping between us and our Father He, being vengeful and retributive, would utterly consume us in His great wrath. They have created a dichotomous God, a split personality, a fractured unity within the Godhead, have shown Christ vastly different than His Father and ours, have told us that it was the Divine wrath which our Lord absorbed on Calvary rather than that Christ absorbed the wrath of sinners; they have, to defend their man-made doctrines, deliberately mistranslated certain key words in Scripture, have failed to teach what Christ everywhere proclaimed—that He and His Father are One, that They are of the same mind in all things, that to see Christ is to also see the unseen Father and to know Jesus aright is to also know Him aright, that God is like Jesus in every way without any exceptions.
And this theology has worked negatively within the Church and without. Within Christendom are myriad believers who have learned to fear God, and without are the multitudes, growing in number, who refuse such theology as the Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement sets forth, and who claim if that be the God of the Christians they want nothing to do with it. Thus the Church, which began as a torch set to the dry wood of the godless world and began as a great conflagration, has by now become but the skeletal and largely impotent remain of its formerly potent self. Is the highest good which the Church can offer mankind is a God to be feared? Is the best teaching that in this life only He is the God of Love but, should you die without Him, He then becomes your tormentor?
Obvious to me it is better that a man fear God than ignore Him completely, and by fear have many been driven to the cross; but think of it, brothers and sisters: What good earthly father would have his children relate and respond to him out of fear? God forbid! Would he not with all his heart desire that his little ones run to and embrace him? Can a man be better than God? Our Christ is harmless, so also is the Spirit; why should we for any cause think that within the Trinity our Father is different than They? It is clearly shown and known that God IS Love, and that perfect love casts out all fear. People tend to gyrate toward circles of acceptance—by the preaching that God is to be feared are people repelled rather than drawn to Him.
It is for this very reason that, as I think, the world still slumbers in darkness; it is not God Who is an affront to the sensibilities and logic of men, nor Christ Who is reprehensible to them, but the message of those who from their pulpits and in their programs and within their books teach and demonstrate by their very tongues and pens and lives a god which is no God at all. The all-inclusive, all-redemptive, all-loving God of the early Church has been buried under a weight of falsehood so that the early fire is by now reduced to only a still glowing, yet by Divine decree inextinguishable, ember. Only the Divine Wind which is the Spirit can fan the ember back to flame, for He alone is a tongue of Fire, Consuming Fire, and the Fire is the Christlike heart of God.
Understand this if nothing else; all mankind, each and every person who ever, or now, or ever shall, draw breath, including the unborn bounty aborted within the wombs of womanhood—all, without exceptions—are the children of their Father Who loves them wholly, individually, personally and desperately with a radical, Selfless, servant-heart, Love—this is a Lord Who reigns through service, Who taxes not His subjects but from Whom all blessings flow; He would never allow a John to say or think about the unworthiness of unlatching His sandal except He, first, is the One to kneels down and unlatches the sandals of God's children, washes their feet as He did at the Last Supper, and kisses them more tenderly than any godly mother ever kissed the feet of her precious babe.
This God, our God, the God of every person, is a Consuming Fire; we are like unto gold alloyed by crust and contaminant, impure, unrefined, unfit in our natural conditions to be hammered into glorious forms—the great Heat is by Him administered through trials and toil, by suffering, by punishment, by fears, by every resort, we being purified by our God; He will not leave off the good thing He began so long ago when He, with specific plan, created our kind; He will continue to work, in this life and also in the coming one, to accomplish all His will. And by Him, His methods, His design, His implementation of things not seen or imagined, by Divine force, by Love unmixed and unquenchable, by Fire, by blood, by suffering, by loss, by justice and by judgment, by death itself, by any and everything attendant to a fallen creation—by all these and more shall He, through Christ Jesus, gain for and over us the comprehensive Victory over sin and death and isolation and all which separates between Him and His beloved children. He will lose not a one of them.
There will be no dark spot in the cosmos from which sin reigns, no bastion whose banner is death, no recalcitrant foe of life and liberty to endure; in the end of things it will be no pseudo-victory of Christ and God wherein some, perhaps a fractional few of our race, enter into bliss while the masses of mankind go off into some darkly imagined eternity separated and suffering incredibly without their God and Father and Brother. When every knee has finally bowed to Him it will be to the glory of God—and what glory could a tyrant (much less a good man), much less yet a God, glean from a knee bent at the point of a sword, the heart rebelling, the mind cursing, the rebel still revolting? Nay, there is coming a day when throughout the entire universe every soul, every creature, shall sing the praises of God and to the Lamb Who, in Peace, has conquered what the sword could not.
God, Who is immutable, changeless, the same in all the tomorrows as He is now and ever has been, never once forced any man to accept Him, obey Him, or love Him. If men bow their knee to Him, as surely they will, then why would we ever suppose that He will show a shadow of turning, that He would by overwhelming force instead of by the inestimable power of Love, demand that men should acquiesce to Him? He is Love, and love must be both freely given, and freely received; in this way only is Love reciprocated—and by love returned shall men bow before their God.
“He is bound in Himself to make up for wrong done by His children, and He can do nothing to make up for wrong done but by bringing about the repentance of the wrong-doer.”
In closing I would say this to you; even as love is reciprocal for its fulfilling, so also is atonement: Christ died for our sins; we must in reciprocation die to our sins. The Atonement of Christ is sufficient for every person; it is ineffectual in and of itself—for effectiveness man must participate in his own Atonement; he must become the executioner of his own sin, for the God of grace and Justice will not by application of some external force do it for him. Even as Christ was put to death for sin, every man must put his own old Self to death or, as the Apostle clearly exhorts, to “die daily” and to be “crucified with Christ.” This is the one means by which we receive the benefit and begin to realize as a truth the Divine Justice, come into the joy of His Mercy, cast out our Fear and by such Self-Punishment, the abrogation of Self and all which is unlike Christ within us, avoid His loving and corrective chastisement; it is how we grow from spiritual infancy into adulthood and become the true children of our Father, those who grow their “great heaven sweeping wings” and hear from heaven words from the vocal chords of Amazing Grace and Love profound— “Well done My good and faithful servant.”
The Wholesome Suffering
by Dave Roney
“...for Thou renderest to every man according to his work.” (Psalm 62:12)
In the second and third verses of the chapter from which our text is lifted, we find a picture drawn by the psalmist of a war footing, of opposed camps, of God on one side and those who are enemies to Him (though He be not their enemy) on the other: In the second verse David, who is in the Lord's camp, declares God to be “my Rock and my Salvation, my Fortress,” and in the third verse asks the question “How long will all of you batter Him?” How long, and to what length will they go? See the cruciform Christ and you will know the answer. You will then also know that from the unassailable walls of the Living Fortress there is not a single arrow sent flying, neither any hostile response from our God, nor any strategy meant to destroy His foes; for He intends to win them all to His side, and He will do it.
Allow that I go a bit further concerning this metaphor of the Living Fortress; those within the walls are His true children, those without are His estranged children, they are all His children, only differing in their relationships to Him, for of one blood He has made them all; they are a house divided, but all of the same human household. Those opposed to their Father let fly their poisoned arrows; they do not strike against stone walls but walls of Living Flesh, for the Fortress is the Living God, the Living One. And down the sides of the ramparts flows His blood from every place He is pierced. And every arrow which finds way to His children must first pass through the living walls of the Fortress which is Him so that the suffering of His saints is His Own as well, and no harm comes to any of them except it first passes through and harms Him. He will never leave them nor forsake them; when the darts have pierced Him first before reaching them, the children then become partakers in His death and in His Life; it is the suffering of the saints whose sufferings are the selfsame as those of their great Captain. “Indeed,” says St. Paul (2 Tim. 3:12) "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."
Men, those possessing inner eyes which do not see, think the Fortress to be made of stone, the citadel being but one of religion; when they can truly see they will behold Him Whom they have pierced and know the Fortress of the Psalmist is Living, and from the thousand bleeding wounds visited upon Him and His saints realize and repent themselves of their evil:
“The one deepest, highest, truest, most wholesome suffering must be generated in the wicked by a vision of the hideousness of their lives, of the horror of the wrongs they have done. Physical suffering may be a factor in rousing this mental pain; but 'I would I had never been born!' must be the cry of Judas, not because of the hell-fire around him, but because he loathes the man that betrayed his friend, the world's Friend. When a man loathes himself, he has begun to be saved.”
If there is in fact “one deepest, highest, truest, most wholesome suffering” the implication is that there are other sufferings as well, on differing planes, brought by an array of causes; and if the highest of these, the self-loathing, is wholesome then it follows that all those other forms are, as well, wholesome by degrees; for as small streams proceeding from various sources they all join eventually in the great river of self-loathing. And though I present no proofs for this it follows from a truth; that God is ever working for the redemption of all things. And that He is able to use the broken things to effect His ends, and is doing it. And though space here is limited, I would speak briefly to another form of suffering quite unlike that of a Judas.
What of the godly wife who dies from a terrible disease, or the precious little child who dies of starvation, or languishes for months in the infirmary struggling for life that is dreadfully slipping away? These have done nothing to incur suffering, yet must bear it; how shall anyone say such suffering is justified? How could it be wholesome? They are no Judas, have no blood on their hands, have not betrayed their great Friend, yet they suffer the same tragedies as those who are evil and leave God out of their thinking. Not all suffering is the result of personal sin, but all suffering is the result, a consequence, of living in a broken world. If the Titanic, “broken” by an iceberg, sinks, those who drown include both the godly and the ungodly, the just and the unjust, innocent children as well as hardened criminals; and our world is also broken, so that nothing befalls the believer, the innocent, the godly, such is not common to all people living in the world. It is for us, who sorrow not as do others who have no hope in sight, to bear unspeakable grief and do it by the strength lent by our sure faith that the sun will rise, the darkness flee, death shall die and Life shall reign, at His appearing.
It is a hard thing, and many there are who, sensing the injustice of it, have hardened themselves against God; but there are also those who through such calamities have been drawn closer to God, so that the effect of the suffering, and the wholesomeness of it, cannot be judged according to the manner by which men respond: a Joseph says to his brothers “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good;” he does not say the evil was good, but that God used the evil to make the good. Even the inanimate universe is long groaning, suffering, awaiting the redemption of the children of God; it has done no evil yet suffers in way unknown to us; the suffering of all things is, in the end, shown to be wholesome; for the suffering of the moment makes the more dear that coming Redemption.
But what of the just suffering of the evil doer? Is it also wholesome?
“Punishment tends to this result. Not for its own sake, not as a make-up for sin, not for Divine revenge—horrible word—not for any satisfaction to justice, can punishment exist. It is for the sake of amendment and atonement. God is bound by His love to punish sin in order to deliver His creature; He is bound by His justice to destroy sin in His creation. Love is Justice—the fulfilling of the law, for God as well as His children. This is the reason for punishment; this is why justice requires that the wicked shall not go unpunished—that they, through the eye opening power of pain, may come to see and do justice, may be brought to desire and make all possible amends, and so become just.”
The punishment inflicted by God has as its goal the repentance of the sinner, and that sinner's restoration to Himself; so also is the punishment brought to bear by men fully within the plan and power of God to redeem. When Christ Jesus suffered His agony, the jeering mob cried “Away with Him!” and again of Paul “Such an one should not be allowed to live!” God did not do such things, nor could He; yet He uses the acts of sinful men to accomplish His will; He brings life out of death: One might well say that He uses the clay at hand to produce His finished work; that our clay, shot through with so many woes, lacerates the Potter's hands, yet He continues His work, fires the clay, refines it, burns out the imperfections, and gives to Himself a vessel of honor. And punishment is a legitimate form of that Fire.
Make no mistake; all of that which occurs in the world, the evil equally with the good, God is using in one way or another to accomplish His ends, to see finally His Will done.
“His children are not His real, true, sons and daughters until they think like Him, feel with Him, judge as He judges, are at home with Him, love the same things, seek the same ends. For this we were created; it is the one end of our being, and includes all other ends whatsoever.” (from Abba, Father)
And with the surface of the subject barely scratched, we end. We have spoken here with a verse in the back of our mind; “For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” And the peace for us in the midst of our storm is, I discover, that in the end “...to Him are all things.” And if that indeed be the case, then we shall know that because all things are being used by Him to bring about the entire Victory in His creation, that suffering is wholesome, for it was one of His many tools to the accomplishment of His loving end. The suffering of a sin-laden conscience, of physical ailments and infirmity, of punishment, of suffering in any of its myriad forms, shall one day be understood as necessary to us in our brokenness, and therefore wholesome. It is a hard thing...