Why does God punish?


So when God punishes someone, with what intention does He do so? With the intention of getting pay back? Or is it to correct us from something? For example, punishing us so we can repent and learn a lesson? Or does He do it to see us suffer for doing something bad?


""Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live?"" (Ezekiel 18:23).

There are two aspects to punishment. One is to see that justice is done. Wrongful action deserves punishment. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Such punishment is dealt out, not because God wants to see anyone suffer but because justice demands wickedness is not left unpunished. If it was unpunished, then one could rightly accuse God of supporting sin.

The ultimate punishment is hell. It is reserved for those who will not leave their sins (Revelation 21:8). But God will also allow sin to serve as its own punishment in hopes that a person will turn from the path he has chosen. For example, concerning homosexuality, God said, "Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due" (Romans 1:27). The typical homosexual has half the lifespan of a heterosexual. That fact ought to be a wake-up call.

God will also allow bad things to happen when people turn away from Him. The book of Judges is a long example of this. Israel would sin, God would let a neighboring country to come in an conquer parts of Israel, Israel would realize they needed God and turn back to Him, and God would raise up someone to drive the enemy out. Israel would remain faithful for a while, but then repeat the same cycle again and again. Parents do this all the time. They set guidelines for their children. When they break the rules, they give out a punishment. It isn't because they like punishing children. It is because wrong-doing must have consequences if a child is going to learn to stay right.

Finally, Hebrews 12:5-14 tells us that God sometimes allows hard times to happen to His children as opportunities to grow by overcoming challenges. We understand this as well. The coach doesn't make athletes run laps and do push-ups for the joy watching kids sweat. He does it to improve the person.

So if a person repents on time, will that person still get punished? Let's say that a person has sinned but has not yet received a punishment; if he realizes that he has sinned and repents before something bad happens to him, will he still get punished?

What if a person is sinning, but he does not know that he is sinning, would God still punish him even if he does not know that he is comitting a sin?

It appears that you are confusing the consequences of sinful actions with just punishment for sins.

Sins typically bring about bad results in our lives, that is why God warns us away from sin. Sometimes those consequences are clearly obvious and immediate, but sometimes it appears the result of sin is subtle or its effects don't appear until years later. In the latter case, people fool themselves into thinking that they got away with sin or that God isn't paying attention.

"Truly God is good to Israel, to such as are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men. Therefore pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish. They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walks through the earth. Therefore his people return here, and waters of a full cup are drained by them. And they say, "How does God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?"

Behold, these are the ungodly, who are always at ease; They increase in riches. Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning.

If I had said, "I will speak thus," behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children. When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me - until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.

Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment! They are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes, so, Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image" (Psalms 73:1-20).

You see this all the time. Drug users puff on marijuana joints and think that life is great, never noticing the impact it is having on their mind and their health. People lie, thinking they are getting themselves out of trouble, but never noticing how it complicates their life with one lie needing to be covered by yet another. Quick acts of sex are seen as fun, but people ignore the impact it makes in their relationships, the possibility of producing a child, or picking up a disease. Just because a person hasn't yet noticed the impact sin has made in his life, it doesn't mean it isn't there.

When we repent of our sins, God promises to forgive us, but He didn't say He will shield us from our own stupidity. When David sinned with Bathsheba, he repented of his sins, but a whole long series of bad things happened as a result of sin even after he repented.

"Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.'

Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun.'"

So David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."

And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die"" (2 Samuel 12:7-14).

All the things prophesied came to pass. David remained a warrior king his entire life. His own son lead a rebellion and had sex with David's concubines in public. And the son born to David and Bathsheba died two weeks later. What happened to David wasn't as bad as it could have been, but God didn't shield David completely from the consequences of his sins. And those consequences would serve to remind David to be more careful in the future.

What happens when we sin in ignorance? Well, sin is still sin. It is still harmful and is going to cause harm. One would hope that as a person sees things going badly that he will examine his life and discover what is going wrong so he can start doing what is right. In part that is why Christians are told to continually study. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15). None of us is perfect, so we will be making course corrections as we discover things we didn't realize before.

Ultimately, what should be on everyone's mind is whether we will make it to heaven. While God does take into account what we know when we are judged, ignorance by itself is not an excuse for sin because God also considers what we could have known if we had taken the time to think. "For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without the law. As many as have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it isn't the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be justified (for when Gentiles who don't have the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying with them, and their thoughts among themselves accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men, according to my Good News, by Jesus Christ" (Romans 2:12-16). Paul's point is that people generally know more than they are willing to admit and their own actions and thoughts will end up condemning them. That is why Paul warned that Christ would come "dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus" (II Thessalonians 2:8). The first are those who are ignorant and the later are those who know, but break God's laws anyway.

What we must do is the best we can; that is all God is asking of us. We can't accept sin. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Nor can we pretend that we have no sin. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).

The first step in dealing with sin is becoming a child of God and having your past sins washed way. "Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:4-7).

It doesn't mean that sin will cease to be a problem; quite the opposite. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). But as God's child we have the privilege to approach our Father and ask for forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9). Like David, we will probably still have to deal with sin's consequences, but those can be faced knowing that God loves us and is beside us in life.

Regarding David, were those consequences of his sins, or was it something planned and made by God so he would pay for what he did?

I kind of see what you mean with the consequences and punishment for sin. For example if you hade sex before marriage with someone, you can get someone pregnant or catch a disease. If you repent God will forgive you, but He is not going to cure you from your disease or make the girl not pregnant anymore. Even though you repented from your sin, it does not mean that you won't have to face the consequences you received for your sinful acts. Right?

So if you suspect that God is punishing you for something, how would you know the cause of God's punishment? If you do know what sins you made and you repent from, then can you ask God to stop punishing you or something?

In regards to David's punishments for his sins, it would be hard for us to distinguish what came naturally as a result of David's sins and what God sent to punish David for his sins. We often don't see the series of ramifications of our actions.

But one thing I do need to correct is that punishment is a payment for sin. It cannot be. Throughout the Bible God has told us that sin incurs a debt far greater than we we can pay. "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Do you remember the parable of the man owing 10,000 talents to the king in Matthew 18:23-35? The debt the man owed was a staggering sum. One talent of silver was worth roughly what a common laborer could make in 6,000 days or sixteen and a half years. (If it was a talent of gold, you would have to multiply this by 80). In Jesus day, “The imperial taxes of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria for one year were only 600 talents while Galilee and Perea paid 200 (Josephus, Ant. xi. 4)” [Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson]. This man was said to owe 10,000 talents! It would take a common laborer 164,384 years to pay off such a debt, which is absolutely impossible and that was the point. When it comes to what an individual owes God for his sins, the sum is so high that it is impossible for a person to pay his debt. Discomfort in this world cannot pay for your sins.

Punishment is not for payment but as a deterrent against future sins. It is there to make us stop and wonder whether it is worth repeating the actions. We do the same in our justice system. Time in prison doesn't pay back a wrong done. It is there to make a person think about the cost of wrong doing before actually committing a crime. Punishment generally comes after a crime is committed, not while it is being committed.

A punishment for something that you did not know what was wrong wouldn't serve as a deterrent. Though there are times we could figure it out, but we don't want to admit the truth of the matter. As an example, in Joshua 7, Israel was defeated in what should have been an easy battle at Ai. Joshua was unaware that someone had disobeyed God earlier and stole items from Jericho. You might wonder why God allowed them to be defeated if Joshua and the rest of Israel didn't know. But if you read the account, God had withdrawn His support because of the sin, and no one stopped to ask God if He would be with them in the next battle. They just assumed God would be there. Not until they found out the hard way that He wasn't with them did they stopped to ask.

The point is that you should always be monitoring your life and making corrections so that you are improving yourself. When you see something is wrong, you should correct it and not ignore it or continue it. If something is going wrong in your life and you can't figure out why, then find someone you know with more experience and wisdom and ask if they can help you figure out what is going wrong.

If you do realize your sins, and repent of them, then you can ask God for relief from your burdens. But understand whether He decides to do so or not will be because He has decided what is best for us. When David repented, God told him he would not die as a result of his sins. But when David pleaded for the life of his infant son, God's answer was "no." Some things just have to be faced so that a lesson remains with us.