Somewhere in the psyche of all of us is the sense that misbehavior deserves punishment equivalent to the crime. There is something of a balancing mechanism in us that demands that justice be meted out to the wayward and/or to us. Even in animals, this sense of justice is present.
By contrast, grace provides a covering for our behavior in that Christ already paid the price for our sin. So, how is it that we are to think and feel about this dichotomy of grace and deserved punishment? Certainly the efficacy of God’s grace is adequate for all our need and yet, what of justice and what of the consequences for our crime and failure?
He sat in my office, with a fallen demeanor and facial expressions telling of the severity of the inner turmoil he was experiencing. He was in trouble. His business was failing and his family was disintegrating. Nothing seemed to be going right. He wanted to strike out at the circumstances and fight with those pressures that seemed to be bringing destruction to his life, but there was a certain nagging fear that these were the deserved consequences of his past sins. This crisis was simply God, getting back at him.
Many of us have wondered from time to time if in fact the problems of life are just a reflection of some cosmic justice that eventually equals out things and gives as much as it takes. We will ultimately get back what we have given and will suffer for the pain we have given into life. The problem with that nagging sense of justice is that we also observe that it does not work equally for everyone. Everyone knows of exclusions to that rule. There are those scoundrels who seem to prosper without conscience and who gain at the expense of others, without remorse or guilt. Then there are those on the other end of that continuum who seem to suffer loss and pain without any observable deserving of it.
So, the question becomes, is there a rule at all? Does God punish evenhandedly or does He simple hurl the arrows of justice randomly, letting them fall where they may?
In the first place, the Bible never speaks of punishment separately from the act or the sin. We might conclude then, that the punishment is not exacted by God as a separate event from the sin, but that the penalty is in the sin itself. The commandments of God are not punitive but descriptive; that is, they are not given to steal from us our pleasure, our success or anything of that nature. They do however, acknowledge the natural consequences of violating them. They are living principles of cause and effect. If you kill, steal or injure others, there will naturally come to you the backlash of the violation. The penalty is in the sin.
As for God, He accepted the price paid on Calvary as payment in full for human failure. He is not out to get you, to punish you or to make sure there is a price paid equal to the violation. The penalty is paid. The price you pay is not from a punitive God but from the violation of principle. If you fall, gravity exacts its price on you. But God does not separately need a payment. It is finished on the Cross.
So, get up, get going and stop feeling as though God has forsaken you. He cannot! Because He is God! His love and grace are greater than your failure.