Monthly Archives: February 2018


There are those who dismiss the very concept of punishment as barbaric and should be outlawed. Perhaps they are right but it isn’t a topic I’m interested in at this moment.
I’d like also, for now, to bracket out discussion about “who has the right?” to punish. The question merits sustained discussion, of course, but it would take us to places beyond where I wish to go at present.
I wish to reflect a little on punishment. The subject soon goes beyond my competence but I wish to express what seems straightforward to most of us who have given the matter some thought. The reader will soon know when the debate should begin. I’ll start this little piece by saying some of the things we should mean when we use the word “punishment” and then make some comments on the points listed.

1) Punishment is something meant to hurt or generate some sense of loss. It can’t be meant to be reward.

2) Punishment is something purposed. It can’t be an accident.

3) It is inflicted on someone thought to be guilty of some wrongdoing. It cannot be inflicted on someone known to be innocent.

4) It is carried out in response to wrong actually done. It cannot be a deterrent meant to keep an innocent someone from doing something wrong in the future.

5) The one who punishes must not only purpose to inflict some form of hurt or loss he/she must mean it to be punishment or it isn’t punishment. This is a point distinct from point 2 above.

Further comment:

Supposing a child knowingly does something wrong and the parents see fit to punish him; it cannot be something that rewards him for his wrongdoing. That is, the parents must not intend the boy to understand it as reward. The boy might not experience it as loss, he might even be happy he has been sent to his room but he mustn’t think that’s what the parents had in mind. However the boy in fact experiences it, the parents must mean it to be an expression of their opposition to the deed. Parental intent is central here.

We hear complaints all the time about how punishment is carried out in the judicial system. The protesters think that those who are imprisoned are being rewarded rather than punished. This makes the point that punishment is supposed to generate some form of loss. Whether prisoners in fact experience incarceration as “a hurt” inflicted that is what it is supposed to be.
Punishment cannot be an accident. A man steals a car, while driving off with it he hits an ice patch, goes off the road, wrecks the car and suffers a leg fracture and a dislocated shoulder. The police arrest him, he finally goes to court and his lawyer claims he has already been punished in that he was physically hurt.

Some people believe he was punished (say, by God) but that won’t do for our situation; it isn’t known that God punished him and it isn’t known that God punished him for that crime. Society can only function on this basis: the man committed the crime and society must deal with him and “dealing” with him will have to take some penal form. Punishment is not the same as suffering!!!!!
Punishment can only be inflicted on someone thought to be guilty of some wrongdoing. It may be the case that the one punished is in fact innocent but he is not thought to be innocent otherwise punishment isn’t punishment, it is some form of injustice. Punishment can only be carried out on the guilty if the word is to retain its rightful meaning.
We do not punish a paramedic for inflicting pain and suffering on the victim of an accident. The victim will no doubt scream when the medic carries out some extreme life-saving act but we don’t think of him as doing wrong when it’s clear he does what he does to save their life. It’s true there may be occasions when the medic is thought to have done wrong but putting the best face on the analogy we know that there’s a difference between inflicting pain for a good cause and doing wrong.
Punishment can only be inflicted on someone guilty of an actual wrong. Punishment is only just in the presence of actual guilt therefore it cannot be used as a deterrent. It may be used to deter the wrongdoer from further wrongdoing but he must have already committed a wrong for which he is being  punished. We may wish his punishment to act as a deterrent on others but punishment can only be justly inflicted for a crime actually committed. If we decide to subject someone to suffering that he might not do something wrong at a future date whatever else we are doing we cannot call it punishment. Trainee soldiers may be put through severe trials of numerous kinds to toughen them but where that is the case punishment is not what is happening.
We must not lay hold of a law-abiding citizen walking down the street and put him in jail or levy a fine as punishment to keep him from doing something wrong sometime in the future. We can’t deprive a young girl of her freedom by confining her to the house for a week (grounding) if she has done nothing to warrant such confinement. “What have I done?” she asks. The parents say, “You’ve done nothing wrong. We’re punishing you to keep you from doing wrong in the future.” Call the confinement what we will but if we call it punishment we are speaking in ignorance.
The one inflicting punishment must intend it to be punishment. This is not the same point as point 2. The above can hardly be controversial but I suppose this claim warrants more prolonged reflection and debate.
Suppose a young man who is mentally ill takes to hitting people with whatever comes to hand. He has already quite seriously injured some of his friends. Those who work in this area will confer on the matter and let us imagine that they finally think it necessary to isolate the young man—at least to place him in care where he will not be a threat to other innocents.
Suppose further than this young man is anguished by his loss of freedom and doesn’t understand why he is so deprived. He thinks he is being treated unjustly, he’s being punished; he may not have the capacity to use the words or understand the concepts but he has the capacity to suffer and his experience of suffering has been laid on him by the authorities.
Those who put him in this place of confinement and special care know that punishment is not the appropriate word. But more than that, they feel no desire to punish—not only do they reject the word, in this case they reject the concept. They feel only sadness for the young man and a commitment to those he has hurt and could hurt and if possible they hope to help “cure” the offender.
Though the young man experiences inflicted pain and loss it isn’t placed on him as punishment; there is no sense that he deserves it. I wish to make the point that to punish someone must in some sense be carried out with the intention to punish and because the one punished knowingly did the wrong.
It’s clear that one can punish another without vindictiveness or in a vengeful spirit but there’s more than that to be said. The word punish will always have its place in human society where there are standards and where those standards are knowingly broken and where for the protection of others the wrongdoer must be punished.

Nevertheless, it’s common knowledge that we forgive and forgive and forgive wrongs without punishing them, without feeling the need to punish or without wishing to punish. On these occasions we wish the wrong hadn’t been committed, we don’t approve of it but we don’t think in terms of punishing the transgressor. People in their millions practice this daily. They forgive.






George MacDonald’s character, Curdie, came to the king’s house because the princess had told him to report to her there. At the door he met the officious housekeeper (who seemed to swell and fill the door) who rebuked him for his comings and goings and the fact that he (as she saw it) made a mess of things while he was there. “Don’t you know this is my house?” she barked. Curdie politely replied that he didn’t know that because he thought it was the king’s house. She responded, he responded, she called him insolent and oozing pride & she asked the poor ignoramus, “Don’t you see by my dress that I am in the king’s service?” Curdie, a young mine worker, wanted to know, “And am I not one of his miners?”

“Ah, that goes for nothing,” she snapped. “I am one of his household. You are an out-of-doors laborer. You are a nobody. You carry a pickaxe. I carry the keys at my waist. See!”
But Curdie checkmated her with, “But you must not call one ‘a nobody’ to whom the king has spoken.”
This is a hard lesson for us to learn. You understand that it isn’t that we’re all to function in the same place of authority with the same responsibilities. There are those that have been given authority over us and though often we don’t like that, there’s no community living without accepting the truth of it. Still, it’s a hard lesson to learn because we tend to be prideful (do we not?) and if we’ve haven’t been given the most sought after job, the one that attracts the attention and gets the big money, we’re inclined to whimper (and other things) a lot. Well, why not? We should be treated with respect and when we are stuck in a lower level position our “personhood” is scorned and many of us won’t stand for that, will we.  (Is that not true—or am I mistaken?)
The sad thing is that some of us get the place we think we deserve and it doesn’t make us better. Like the officious housekeeper we balloon up and fill the doorways of life and are only content when we think we’ve surpassed the other “peasants” way below us. In that spirit it doesn’t matter to us, for example, that others would be better as rich people than we would be if we were made rich. It only matters that we are or get to be wealthy or prominent or acclaimed.
Apparently Curdie had no trouble with any of that. He had a pure heart and was perfectly content to be the king’s miner. He didn’t need to have the keys to buildings hanging at his belt, didn’t need to minister to vast congregations, nor did he need to drive a big fancy car or be the belle of anyone’s ball. He was more than at peace within himself. He rejoiced in the dignity of being one that the king had spoken to and needed nothing more.
(Sigh. What a lovely way that is. It makes me want to be a better man and while I can’t confess that I’m troubled much with jealousy, perhaps there’s more of it in me than I occasionally think there is. Of course I’m well aware that I’m greatly troubled with other things.)
You see the confrontation between Curdie and the housekeeper illustrated in reverse in Number 16 where the rebels weren’t as wise or as pure in heart as Curdie.

Korah, Dathan and Abiram attacked Moses and Aaron because those two exercised authority over the assembly at large and restricted the priesthood to Aaron’s family. The rebels said that these two took too much on themselves because all the people of God are holy and they wanted to exercise the priesthood (16:1-4, 10). Moses reminded them that this was God’s restriction but he goes on to remind these Levites that God had spoken to them and given them their own ministry (16:10). And that was where the problem was rooted. The leading rebels didn’t think their ministry was glorious enough—they wanted more. They thought they were being cheated, you see. They thought that having the priesthood keys at their belt would give them the dignity and recognition they deserved. Had they believed what Curdie knew, that no one to whom the King has spoken is “a nobody;” they would not have despised the privileged place God had already given to them. Though Curdie was a miner with a pickaxe in his hand he knew full well and with joyful contentment that he was one of the king’s servants and in this knowledge he glorified his ministry.

You understand it wasn’t simply that Korah and company were despising their position, they were exalting themselves (compare Romans 12:3-8) and thought they were being robbed. And they weren’t opposing Moses alone; they were opposing God (Numbers 16:11)!
It wasn’t a question about what God wanted. It was all about what these Levites wanted! It wasn’t an information problem; it was a heart problem. “I deserve and want more!”
Poor souls. They talked as though they were suffering like the colonies in their most awful moments suffered when France and Spain and Portugal and Britain were at their plundering worst. They talked as though they were African-Americans that were humiliated and robbed all those years under the worst face of White dominance in the USA or they were Irish during the centuries when England plundered and bullied them. Doesn’t it make you want to throw up sometimes when people (ourselves included?) blessed to the skies whine on and on about wanting more? Those, like Korah, Dathan and Abiram who take the lead in furthering a heart problem among the people of God have something to answer for as the entire Numbers 16 chapter shows.
I can easily imagine someone saying: “It occurs to me that this is a great chapter to use to defend the status quo. It’s a good chapter to use to keep people ‘in their place’.” Hmmm. That’d be another heart problem, wouldn’t it?].


Death affects not only the body—it affects the entire person. It’s a well-intentioned remark when we say of someone, “She isn’t dead; that’s only her body,” but it isn’t true. “I” die when I die—not just a part of me! Death affects me!
Nevertheless, there is something that is identifiable as the person that continues to be after the person has experienced biological death. We call it “the soul” or “the spirit”. (The words are used in various ways in the Holy Scriptures and context is what determines how they are being used in the various texts. I’m not interested in pursuing that truth right now though it is certainly worthy of development.)
I don’t think that that “something” that is identifiable as us, that survives biological death, is a physical “substance”—even a very refined substance (as if it were a “mist” or a “cloud” as the movies sometimes show us).
I’m currently content to believe what I’ve said is true. However we should speak of it I’m certain that those who die continue to be and I believe that because I take Philippians 1:23 at face value (though it needs developed). Furthermore, I take at face value what Jesus said to the crucified thief, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.” Luke 23:43. (There are some people who wish to move the comma and have Jesus say, “Verily I say to you this day, you will be…” This is desperation. Conditional immortality may be true but this is no way to make it look creditable.) And with Paul, I’m one of countless that believes that those who die in the Lord Jesus have not “perished”. 1 Corinthians 15:18, where he will not tolerate such a view.
Taking the above to be true (pursue me at or if you wish), I take the view that the body of our current fallen state falls apart (the body of our humiliation or “lowly body,”—Philippians 3:21) and we continue in a disembodied state and not non-existent. (In the coming resurrection we are not replaced—I am I and you are you—not substitutes for the having utterly perished.)
Death leads to the corruption and destruction of the physical body but it also robs us of embodiment and God did not create us for such a state. In the death experience we are robbed of embodiment which is an essential element of fullness of life as God has purposed us to experience as humans.
Jesus during His experience of death experienced what every other human experiences in dying—disembodiment. While disembodiment continues fullness of life—the fullness of life that God eternally purposed for humans—isn’t possible. Death is an enemy and the one thing that scares it witless is the word resurrection.
But not simply the word (which is used in regard to Lazarus who was raised—John 12:1 and who would die again); the word when it is used about the man Jesus!  It is in and through and as Him that life and immortality was/is brought to light (2 Timothy 1:9-10 Acts 26:23; Ephesians 1:19-21, passim). The OT has no developed doctrine of resurrection (that is disputed) but it repeatedly speaks of a coming One in whom human glorification would take place (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Acts 17:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, “according to the Scriptures”; Romans 1:4).
I think it important to accept that while those who are embraced in God’s saving work, carried out in and through and as Jesus Christ, are safe and blessed they are yet dead! Death is to be viewed from numerous angles but one of them is this: Death is disembodiment! Disembodiment is robbery and is the wages of Sin (Romans 6:23). And as long as we are disembodied Death is lord over us (see Romans 8:17-25 & 1 Corinthians 15:24-26). Those who are blessed, being reconciled to God by His Son’s death, will be saved by His life (His resurrection)—Romans 5:10.
In light of Jesus and His resurrection beyond the limitations of current creaturely weakness (though without jettisoning His humanity!) we need not fear Death though it might well be that we do when it approaches.
Sin reigns through Death and Death through Sin (Romans 5:12-21) over the entire human family. Even the innocent (babies and other innocent ones) are hurt by our having chosen alienation from God and life. The consequences of that choice of Sin/alienation affects all of us.
Humanity’s history and current experience is in Adam (“the old man”)—our experience in relation to him is one under Sin & Death. In being baptized into the Lord Jesus the history and experience of people is/are altered. The “old man” dies (Romans 6:6)—that is, our relationship to Adam dies and a new relationship comes into being (Romans 7:1-6), and there’s a beginning of a new history that culminates in the utter death of Death and the glorification of God when the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:24-26, 45) surrenders the dominion to God in contrast to the old Adam who seized a dominion that because it was alienation from the source of life was actually Sin and Death.
Death is not to be seen as merely a biological  experience. It is that, of course; it is sadness, pain, disruption and more but it is bigger than all those; for those who believe in Jesus Christ and have something of an understanding of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Death is to be seen as Sin’s reign that affects the creation. Only by gaining a further understanding of the gospel realities about GOD and His Holy Son that come to an unending climax in His resurrection to glory and fullness of life do we see Death & Sin for the vile life-sucking but losing predators they really are!