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.
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...