Skip to content


February 4, 2014

When we do something bad, we get punished for it That is a lesson most of us learn as children. We also learn that sometimes when we do something bad, we get away with it although that may only be temporary. But our society is built with a system of justice that metes out punishment. So it is not surprising that early societies explained disasters as punishment from the gods. When the early Hebrews who worshiped their God in the temple in Jerusalem saw their temple destroyed and were themselves carried off to Babylon, they saw that as punishment from God for their unfaithfulness. Even today we still seem to think that our God of love and justice is also a God of punishment.

But we’ve learned a lot about how nature works. For example, we know how hurricanes are formed with wind and rain and floods. We know how earthquakes and volcanoes function. We’ve also learned that as humans, we have evolved very gradually over many millions of years from earlier life forms. Each unit of life – a rose bush, a tree, a bacterium, a bird, a bear, a human – each has a birth and a death, and exists with risk of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Death is always a companion of life. Natural disasters in which people get killed are not punishments from God. For in nature there is no punishment, only consequences.

As humans, we also learn very early that our behavior can have consequences. A crying baby gets fed. When we fall down, we get hurt. When we cut ourselves, we bleed. When we go outside in winter, we get cold. And we learn to adjust our behavior accordingly. We learn about consequences. We learn as young children even to use our behavior to attain desired consequences.

But we humans also learn that the consequence of bad behavior is punishment. Punishment imposed by a higher authority such as a parent, a teacher, a political entity such as a city, a state, or a nation – all because of “rules” set by that higher authority. This is not nature, but humans imposing punishment on other humans. And we humans generally accept such punishment as part of belonging to a family or a society. Up to a point. We humans – and our societies – can very easily carry punishment to excess, even to extreme. It can become arbitrary, cruel, vindictive, even deadly. We’ll call it deserved, and label it retribution. We’ll label it just and call it war. We humans have become very skilled at this. History is full of examples, Hitler and the holocaust being one of the more recent, the Inquisition in the name of the Church being so tragic.

This is because we humans share with all of life in a struggle for survival. It’s in our DNA. Protection mechanisms have developed such as fear of strangers and tribal instincts. These animal instincts are very strong in humans for we have evolved only recently in life’s time scale. In addition, especially in humans, with our amazingly evolved brain, we have a highly-developed sense of self, a self-awareness, a sense of being “me” And with that brain we also have an imagination that can create images of the past and even of the future. We are aware that we will die. All of this engenders insecurity in a world where bad things happen. We let our imaginations coupled with our selfish animal instincts take over all too easily, and we become cruel, vindictive, belligerent, and we even kill.  And whether as an individual, as a parent or stranger,  as a judge or president, as a nation or a religion, we choose to let our animal instincts take control of our thoughts and actions.   It is a choice made by humans, a choice  that has consequences that always affect more than a single individual.  They can affect a family, a society, a nation!   The source of much misery and hurt in the world is us.

But it need not be. For we humans with our sense of self awareness can also experience something “more” in our relation to others and in our relation to all other life. We have evolved with a capacity to love. We can rise above our animal instincts and begin to develop relationships based on mutual respect for each other and on love for each other. Is not this what Nelson Mandella demonstrated to us? Is not this what Jesus showed and continues to show to us? We have the capacity to become more fully human, to rise above those feelings of anger and hate and vengeance.  We must make the choice.

So I say, “No!” God does not inflict punishment on us. We humans do it to ourselves and to each other. Our goal – as an individual, as a society, and as a nation – must be to live each day letting that spark, that gift of love, that spirit of God within each of us control our actions and thoughts. Only then can we begin to reach our potential of what it means to be fully human. And isn’t that the vision that Jesus gave us when he talked about the Kingdom of God on earth?

Loren Bullock
February 7, 2014

From → Beliefs

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: