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Question:
If God forgives everything…does He still punish? I feel like whenever I do something wrong, something I love gets taken away. This makes me fear God, and always worry about doing things right. I feel like God punishes me everytime I don’t do something right, and it’s hard for me to feel like I have a real relationship with God when that happens. I compare it to the relationships I have with my friends…and when I do something wrong to one of my friends, regardless of whether or not I meant to, they forgive very easily. While they may think of it from time to time, it doesn’t affect the way they treat me. I want to trust God with everything but I feel like He’s more of a “administrator” than a friend.

Answer:

I think the best way to address this question is to break it down and comment on each statement.

Some of my comments may sound rather blunt, but it is important, as always, to be both TRUTHFUL and COMPASSIONATE. Too often, we have either extreme in the church today where we’ve become either 1) cold, hard and true or 3) mushy, feel-good and completely inoffensive. Neither are correct… neither are what Jesus modeled for us. Jesus was forceful and blunt (vipers! Matt 23:33), and infinitely compassionate (the adulterous woman; John 8:7). I’ll attempt both in this answer.

“If God forgives everything…does He still punish?”

First, God doesn’t “forgive everything”. On an eternal level, related to your eternal destination (heaven or hell), God forgives those who have repented of their sins and turned in faith to God for rescue through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8).

At the present, for Believers, God forgives us of sins we when ask Him too (1John 1:9). This restores our fellowship and intimacy with Him while we finish this race of battling against our sin-corrupted flesh which seeks constantly to pull us away from God (Romans 6:14).

Next, you need to understand the difference between punishment (discipline), consequences and pruning.

  • Punishment or discipline – like any good earthly parent who appropriately punishes their child, God the Father knows perfectly well when it is appropriate to discipline us (Heb 12:7-11). Unlike us imperfect humans, God’s discipline is always done correctly, and is an instrument to 1) teach us, 2) turn us and 3) perfect us.
  • Consequences – consequences are the natural and logical result of our choices. Even though God may forgive us of sin, and we may receive the forgiveness of others we have sinned against, most always there are consequences to deal with. God is not mocked, whatever seed we plant, that is the harvest we reap (Gal 6:7). A couple may be forgiven for fornication, but have a pregnancy to deal with. A person may be forgiven for lying, but there is still trust to be rebuilt.
  • Pruning – God sometimes cuts away, or removes things from our lives that are keeping us fully from Him. This is not punishment. It is like the gardener who knows when to prune his plants so that the fullest and healthiest growth can occur (John 15:2).

It takes discernment to know the difference in these three, and maturity to accept the fact that forgiveness does not equal the removal of all things uncomfortable.

Forgiveness does not necessarily mean the
removal of all things uncomfortable.

“I feel like whenever I do something wrong, something I love gets taken away.”

You have two options to consider: 1) you are right, and 2) you are mistaken.

You might be right. God may very well be removing things from you that you love, or that are important to you “when you do things wrong” because God might know that is the perfect way to get your attention.

However, I have found from experience that most of the time this is our own paranoia, immaturity and insecurity speaking. Why? Because the Bible clearly tells us the God is NOT a harsh taskmaster riding the heavenly lightning bolt, licking his chops, just waiting for us to mess up so He can ZZZZAP us!

Now, I would propose that God could very well be confirming to you that “yes, you did wrong, yes, I am watching, yes, I am here” by letting you see a clear consequence (“taking something that is important to me”) for your sin. This is not punishment, as much as it is love. If earthly parents are capable of saying, “sweetheart, if you do that wrong thing that you know is wrong, you’re going to have face the discipline for it”. If humans can understand this principle, how much more perfect and loving is it for God to understand?

What loving parent would say to their child over and over, “I know you did wrong, but I forigive you… there are no consequences, just go on”? Anyone who has ever had kids knows that the child who simply say “yahoo!” and go right back to doing wrong because there is no price to pay.

In many very real ways, we are LIKE CHILDREN, even as adults. We want to mouth off, disobey, rebel, lie and make excuses… we just do it in a more sophisticated and manipulative manner. God is not fooled by our childish sinning anymore than I am fooled by my two year old’s attempt to disobey then act innocent. I forgive (compassion) – then proceed with the appropriate response (truth: discipline, consequence, pruning).

Finally, what we “feel” is very often wrong. If God took something away from you EVERY time you sinned, or most of the time, or even only when you “sinned big”… you would have LONG AGO lost every thing you have. So your feelings are betraying you in an attempt to self-justify, excuse or pity your sinful choices.

“This makes me fear God, and always worry about doing things right.”

You should fear God. You don’t have to be SCARED of Him (if you are saved) but you should fear Him.

Fear is “healthy respect”. If I’m standing in the road and a bus hurdling towards me, I FEAR the bus, and I should! The power, the consequence, the result is obvious and I need to fear what will happen if I don’t get out of the way.

In the same way, we “fear” God. God is God. He is our Creator. We owe our existence and salvation to Him. We should fear Him when we choose to ignore Him, disobey or rebel (sin). God has told us how to live, how to act, how to think… all for our own good, protection and eventual reward. Is God some tyrant, taking away all our fun? Hardly. God tells us how to live, think and act because He knows it will result in the VERY VERY best life we can ever live. Thank God He loves us enough to say “do this…” and “don’t do that…”.

Fear God:

  • Psalm 111:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever. (NKJV)

  • Hebrews 12:28-29 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (NKJV)

  • Psalm 130:4 But there is forgiveness with You, That You may be feared. (NKJV)

  • 2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (NKJV)

You do not have to be SCARED of God. Let me again use parenting to explain myself. My children FEAR that I might spank them (strike them on the bottom) if they deliberately disobey. However, my children are not SCARED (live in unknowing fear) that I might walk up and just spank them for no reason, at any time.

We don’t have to be scared of God in the sense that He just punishes us for fun, on a whim or for no reason. We do need to fear God that He may chastise us (like any good parent) when we willfully disobey.

If you are SCARED of God, it is from your own misunderstanding, ignorance or perhaps a result of sinned gone unchecked (ie, my kids might get scared and paranoid if they are sneaking around doing things wrong all the time and worried they are going to get caught unexpectedly).

“I feel like God punishes me everytime I don’t do something right, and it’s hard for me to feel like I have a real relationship with God when that happens. I compare it to the relationships I have with my friends…and when I do something wrong to one of my friends, regardless of whether or not I meant to, they forgive very easily. While they may think of it from time to time, it doesn’t affect the way they treat me.”

First, we know that God doesn’t “punish you” every time you do something wrong. God RESPONDS every time, yes, but whether it is punishment or not is up to His perfect parenting skills.

Next, what do your “feelings” have to do with whether or not your relationship is REAL? What parent hasn’t had the joy of having their kid say “I hate you!” at least once (if they haven’t, I can guaranted you they have probably though it)?

When my kids get mad at me for disciplining them, it doesn’t change my relationship with them. When they “hate me” for punishing them, it doesn’t change the fact that I am their father. How they “feel” about the relationship, especially given their immaturity, has nothing to do with the genuineness of the relationship.

As well, how you “feel” about having a relationship with God means little. You either have one through salvation, or you don’t. If you do, then you need to learn from the Bible what that relationship is, what is means and what is involved and adjust your mind, heart and feelings to the TRUTH, not to your emotions.

FEELINGS FOLLOW CHOICE

Remember, FEELINGS FOLLOW CHOICES. Like a caboose (feelings) at the end of a train (your mind and will), when the train engine (your power of choice and decision) changes direction, the caboose will eventually follow. Depending on the length of the train (how much growing you need to do; how far your feelings are from your knowledge of the truth), it might take a little while for the caboose to reach the “turn” that engine has already gone around… but eventually it will.

Feelings always follow choice. If you want the right feelings, make the right choices. We are a society who let’s feelings RULE… and that is a recipe for chaos and confusion. Let your mind and heart rule, guided by Holy Spirit, educated by the Living Word – and your feelings will the right feelings you can trust and enjoy.

Continuing… why would you compare your relationship to God with that of your friends? Your friends, truth be known, are sinful, rebellious, petty, fickle and UNFORGIVING. How can I say that? Because ALL humans are that way to various degrees.

You claim instant and perfect forgiveness from your friends and that simply cannot be true. Why? Because they are sinful just like you.

First, your perception that your friends treat you this way if probably an inaccurate romanticization, and a convenient dream that supports your wish that God would ignore your sin.

Forgiveness ALWAYS involves someone taking the pain and penalty of the sin that has occurred. For example, I can forgive my kids for breaking a lamp while horseplaying but in order to to do that, I must bear the burden of the transgression. I’ve lost the lamp. I have to clean up the mess and I have to pay to replace it. They are forgiven because I am bearing the burden.

God can forgive us of sin because Jesus bears the price of it. He suffered for it. He died for it. He paid the price. So God can forgive me at Christ’s expense.

I can forgive you for lying about me but I must choose to bear the pain of the hurt. If I tell others about it (gossip), then I’m hurting you. If I bring it up later, then I’m hurting you. If I secretly hold a grudge, then I’m hurting you because it will destroy our frienship. If I truly forgive you, then I bear the pain of the transgression alone, and never hold it against you, or up to you ever again. That is true forgiveness.

If you think all your friends do this for you, you are simply viewing them through rose-colored glasses.

As well, you do yourself a great disservice by wishing God was like your friends. What you are really saying is “I wish God would ignore my sin, and look the other way in mock forgiveness and let me off the hook”.

Your friends may very well do that in their imperfect, sinful and finite abilities. God however, knows PERFECTLY, what the PERFECT response is to further PERFECT you. Whether discipline, consequence, pruning or “letting you off the hook” (which I believe God does in a sense many times), God always responds in the very best, most perfect way.

You want to change that? Rather, you should want to change your understanding of God than change God Himself.

Remember this: anything we perceive about God that is not as “good” was we can imagine it should be, is based solely on ignorance and misinformation IN OUR MIND. God cannot be “more good”. He cannot be “more perfect”. He is the definition of both. In any way that we perceive Him to be short of perfection and goodness, we need to investigate OUR heart, not His.

I’ll stake my forgiveness on how God does it rather than on my sinful co-humans (friends).

I want to trust God with everything but I feel like He’s more of a “administrator” than a friend.

Here is where I must be a little more blunt than usual (is that possible?). You don’t want to trust GOD… you want to worship idols. Huh? How can I say that?

You want a “god” of your own making. You want Him to act and “forgive” the way that makes you feel good. You want a “god” that is your buddy and pal… not the Creator God of the Universe who sent His Only Son to die on your behalf and will come again in Holy Vengeance raining fire down on those who have rejected Him.

God is not your “friend” in the sense of being your buddy, your pal, your “hang out, chill out, cool out” group of comrades. This is a mistake of modern parenting where we attempt to be “buddies” with our children FIRST, instead of it being a natural by-product of respect, love, honor and admiration.

God IS your friend in the sense that He loves you, and cares for you intimately. He is your friend in the sense that you have direct fellowship with Him. But He is not your friend in the sense that He is an equal pal that just gives you the wink-wink when you sin and pops another cold one for you.

Let me give you some examples of earthly relationships that are the proper type of “friend” but with the appropriate perspective:

  • I am my children’s “friend”. I love them. They can trust me. They can be honest with me. They can play with me, hang out with me, enjoy time with me, converse with me. However, because I am a TRUE friend, and there is a difference in “position and responsibility” I will not overlook bad behavior, disobedience, disrespect or rebellion. I will react with the proper response that will result in the best for them. I will forgive them, but not overlook their “sin”.
  • When I was a Drill Sgt, I was a “friend” to my troops. They could come to me with problems. I allowed them at appropriate times to sit around and just talk to me casually. I counseled them. They could joke with me and cut up but make no mistake: they didn’t treat me like some equal “buddy”. I did not overlook their mistakes and faults. I “forgave them” but it was my responsibility to make sure I did whatever was necessary to make them a better soldier. Sometimes it was a warning, sometimes extra training, sometimes punishment and yes, sometimes I gave them “the look” which meant “do it again, and suffer”.
  • I’ve had “friends” who were Generals in the Army, CEO’s of large corporations, leaders of big churches and other positions of power and authority. I could talk with them, joke with them. They would talk with me, spend time with me and do things with me but I never had any misconception that we were “buddies”. If I messed up, then I knew to expect the appropriate response.

In that sense, yes, God is our friend. Given the fact of salvation, He is our ultimate friend, our best friend, in many ways our only true friend.

He is NOT our “buddy” though… He will not, can not and should not overlook our sin and act like it didn’t happen. He will respond perfectly, sometimes with “the look”, sometimes with consequences, sometimes with obvious punishment (discipline) and sometimes with extra training or redirection.

Be glad God is not like your human friends. Learn to embrace His response to your sin because it is the perfect response that will make you more like Christ.

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