Words from Our Pastor

Monday, January 14, 2019

Nope, God Doesn't Punish You

As a pastor, it's not uncommon for me to be in conversation with someone in the midst of a personal struggle and he or she ask me, "is God in some way punishing me?"
My heart always gets a little heavy when I hear this.  I'm saddened because they're describing behavior inconsistent with the God I've grown to know and love.  

But one can hardly blame them for asking or wondering, because for years this was common teaching among many denominations.  Depending on your tradition, there was a direct connection between your behavior and what God causes to happen in your life.
In some cases, this is most certainly true.  Consequences are in fact a way of life.  For example, if you drive badly, you're more likely to have a car accident.  If you don't take care of yourself, you're more likely to have health issues.

But my faith doesn't instruct that God is a wrathful being punishing us for our misdeeds.  In fact, the Lutheran emphasis on grace teaches the opposite.  God is always pursuing us, beckoning us back to experience the love, mercy, and forgiveness God offers.
I'm reading this book that is BLOWING. ME. AWAY right now, called "The Divine Dance" by Father Richard Rohr.  In it, he writes, 

"Any talk of anger in God, 'wrath' in God, unforgiveness in God, or any kind of holding back whatsoever," would be seen as "theologically impossible and forever undone by the Trinitarian (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) notion of God.  Nothing human can stop the flow of divine love; we cannot undo the eternal pattern by our worst sin."

It reminds me of when Paul writes in Romans 8, "For I am convinced, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NRSV). 

Nothing.  Did you catch that? NOTHING.  Nothing can separate us from God's love!

Recently my wife spoke at the youth retreat for the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the ELCA and the theme was this-- "Nothing."  It was cool marketing (the brainchild of the amazing Kim Adams) and the kids wore t-shirts with this on it as a reminder that whatever they might think of themselves, whatever mistakes they might have made, whatever they're going through our will go through--NOTHING will ever separate them from God's love.

The same applies to you.

So, if you're going through a rough time right now, if you're carrying guilt or shame, I invite you to remember that the God of love doesn't punish.  The God of love offers grace, love, and forgiveness.  The God of love wants to love you.  

So, let it happen.  Open your heart to this.  

And be free.

See you in church.