When does God punish men on earth? Does He punish His children too? When they sin, He does, but at what point? Many people have doubts and fears regarding this matter. Lack of concrete understanding of it can hinder us from getting closer to God. A vital point of note is consequences are not His punishment. They are subsequent results of people’s actions. God too does not hinder consequences to see if perhaps punishment can be avoided. Perhaps, an easier way to understand it is going back to school days to a Newton’s law that says every action has equal and opposite reaction. For example, if a person is alcoholic, he is bound to lose health. It is a consequence of his action. On the other hand, punishment is a deliberate act of God owing to men’s constant rebellion against Him. In a sense, punishment too can be seen as a consequence of constant rebellion. But the difference is that consequences can always end with God’s mercy while punishment is past mercy. So, at what point does God punish people? “Thus says the LORD, ‘for three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals’” (Amos 2:6).
The phrase “for three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment” explains at what point God punishes men. It indicates repetitive sin or continuity of sin with no intention to quit or return to God. Israel was continually abusing righteousness and compassion. They did not think of ending it, for they thought to themselves that God does not interfere or watch. When men, whether it is God’s people or others, lose their sense of wisdom regarding Him and His ways, they live in sin to the extent of becoming inconsiderate. It is then that God will send punishment on them. Now, this punishment is not like the consequences. It is severe, nothing like a man in sin could have imagined. It’s like the wind whose direction is unknown.
A point we should certainly notice is that God waits before He punishes. He tarries until His patience compelled by the actions of men expires. Thus, many times it takes quite some time before He brings punishment. And we have heard of David say that he was envious of the prosperity of the wicked who are at ease and increased their wealth. Once God sends punishment it will not be for a short time, i.e. its effect and the things that come forth from it will last very long for a lasting memory. And, the Hebrew writer asserts falling into the hands of the living God as a horrifying thing. God will catch them in their carelessness, which they regard as cleverness. The righteous wait and wait knowing it. Now, when this is the case, what steps can we as believers take to avoid their state?
- Seeking forgiveness. Cultivate a mind to often seek God’s forgiveness so that our intimacy with Him is not disturbed. Many times we commit small mistakes. If we seek His forgiveness for them, we become able to exercise fear to avoid bigger mistakes. Even if one makes a huge mistake (sin), he or she quickly seeks His forgiveness so that intimacy with Him is restored. Every so often we feel we have not done any wrong throughout the day, yet, it is wise to seek His forgiveness. It indicates we trust Him more than ourselves. Seeking forgiveness will keep us from a whole lot of trouble and pain. Jesus forgives when put faith in Him. He said, “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins ‘– then He said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, pick up your bed and go home’’” (Matt. 9:6). Now, if there is any ill health in us, He heals us too.
- Avoid self-righteousness. A good number of people do it, primarily because they are in some kind of wrongdoing. The Sadducees were wrongdoers with respect to God. They asked Jesus the following with reference to a woman marrying 7 brothers that died one after the other. “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her” (Mark 12:23). People who are self-righteous defend themselves no matter what. They do not care for holiness. Hence, they lack wisdom and the knowledge of the power of God. But, our aim should always be to grow in the wisdom of the Lord and in His power.
- Nurture faithfulness. There is immense advantage to it. Consider this request of Jesus. “I do not ask You [Father] to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). If we can be faithful to our Lord, God will keep us from the evil one and so, from His horrifying punishment on earth.