Is God punishing us or are we punishing ourselves?

At the end of the Deuteronomy, in Books 28, 29 and 30, just before the Israelites are to cross the River Jordan into the Promised Land, God is laying out for the Israelites how they are to live there. Deuteronomy 28 details the results of their choices in life: if they choose to follow God, to obey His laws, then their lives in all their details will be blessed. And if they refuse to obey God, then their lives will be cursed, again laid out in every specific.

In Book 29 God renews the covenant that He made with the Israelites at Moab and Horeb, saying “Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” [v. 18 NIV]

And in Deuteronomy 30, He tells them that He is not asking the impossible of them, we are perfectly capable of following his laws and commandments. [v. 11] Then He says, “See I set before you life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” [v. 15-16]

He concludes, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life…” [Deut. 30:19-20]

“Now choose life…” In these three books of Deuteronomy God is saying that the Israelites—and all succeeding generations– are choosing whether we are rewarded or punished—by our choices, by our being obedience or not. It’s not just that we are to obey his laws, it is that there are consequences built into our choices, that WE OURSELVES are choosing whether we are blessed or cursed. We choose, through our free will, the way we will live and the consequences of our actions. We choose, in each decision we make, the outcome for us.

It is only after we have chosen to disobey, to disdain, to ignore God’s law and have already suffered our own chosen-consequences that God’s anger at us comes into play. He is talking to and about the whole nation of Israel when He predicts this future event, possibly the exile in Babylon some nine centuries later: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them…Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.” [Deut. 29:25-27]

It is built into the nature of our world that choosing to obey the laws and commandments and the spirit of the law—as Jesus taught—will bless our lives and everything we do, and not obeying them will bring curses, guilt, shame, paranoia, anxiety and more. God’s wrath is way down the line; His punishment is already built into our choices. I can’t say this strongly enough: WE CHOOSE TO BE BLESSED OR PUNISHED THROUGH OUR CHOICES. God has made it clear throughout the Exodus story that our deeds, even our thoughts, have consequences. For every act of disobedience by individuals or groups in that story those people die. The rebellion has to die. There is no way around this teaching: we follow God and we live fully or we disobey and we literally or figuratively die.

Who do you want to be? The person who willingly aligns his/her life with God and is blessed because of that choice? Or the person who refuses to obey God and lives with the ramifications—the guilt, shame, judgment, paranoia—all caused by our own choices.

We choose to be blessed or cursed. We choose our fate. It is not God who punishes us; He has made it clear what impact our choices will bring to our lives. When we continue to be disobedient, we are choosing to punish ourselves. When we choose to be good, we change the outcome, lift the burdens off our shoulders.

Why would we choose to keep punishing ourselves? Do we think God would be punishing us anyway if we didn’t? Obviously, we are not perfect people, so we deserve to live in punishing circumstances. We probably don’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness; we’d have to change a lot if we were to really take in that love. I doubt that the choices are always so conscious—that we are so used to our choices that we don’t really sit down to think about what we’re really doing with our lives.

AA understands this teaching well. The 12 steps are designed to lift off all the burdens an alcoholic carries based on his/her poor choices. By the time a person has gone through all the steps s/he is free of the consequences of his/her bad choices. And is making choices that will bless his/her life.

It’s easy to read these chapters of Deuteronomy as an injunction to be “letter-of-the-law” people, but I don’t think that is the point. God doesn’t want “every-dot-and-tittle” people who can harbor resentments and judgments and feelings of superiority against others who aren’t so inclined—these interior, hidden states belie the surface “goodness.”. God wants people who will worship Him and love Him so much, give their whole selves to Him, that they cannot do anything, A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G, that would offend Him in any way, including making choices that bring us pain and curses. But it is our choice what affects we ourselves cause in our lives.

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Questions to ponder over the week: Do the choices I make in my life bring me blessings? or curses? How aligned am I with God’s Law and Commandments? Am I afraid of God’s punishment? Am I enjoying His blessings? Do I believe God when He says that I am capable of making the right choices? Will I seek his help the decisions I make and follow his counsel?

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Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who make the choices that bring us blessings and resolve to not choose the curses. May we follow the letter and the spirit of the law. May we live surrounded by blessings, in peace, joy and love. May we pour out these same qualities to everyone we meet.

 

 

 

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