Punishment

Go to your room.

It’s not a phrase I have to use often and I’m thankful for that.

My daughter rarely needs punishing, not that an 8-year old can get into much trouble. Instead of punishment I usually find myself repeating myself: pick that up, put that down, put that away, throw that away and no, no, no (often followed by “because I said so”).

I’m no stranger to the deep sigh followed by “why?” or the exasperated “fine.” Sometimes I even get: “It’s not fair,” “You never let me do anything” and, rarely, “I don’t like you.”

And she’s already working the system…or at least trying to.

“We’re not allowed to have kind of bottle at school,” she said. Her class is allowed to have a water bottle at their table and I sent her off with one I bought for her soccer games. It sprays a mist of water to help cool her down. It led to a 5-minute roundabout conversation that ultimately confirmed what I suspected: she was spraying people with it instead of just drinking.

“I thought you’d get mad at me,” she said as she explained why she didn’t start out with the unvarnished truth.

I wasn’t mad. If I’d had a touch of foresight that morning I could have known the temptation of the spray bottle would be too much. If anything, I felt like it was my problem more than hers. How could I possibly punish her?

And these kind of issues have me increasingly considering the nature of punishment.

The Bible has several passages about children and punishment. And, really, it’s got no shortage of other punishments for a wide variety of violations, ranging from the obvious to the absurd.

The book that’s my personal favorite for punishment is Leviticus (which is more cherry-picked than any other book for its condemnations). I find its like reading a list of outdated laws – such as it being illegal to get a fish drunk in Ohio. Here are but a few:

Eating fat

Trimming your beard

Eating a creature that crawls with many legs or on its belly

Touching a dead lizard

Eating shrimp

Tearing your clothes

Cross-breeding animals

Getting tattoos

Mixing fabrics in clothing

Not all have a specific punishment associated with them, but others – like practicing divination, drinking alcohol in holy places and cursing either of your parents – are punishable by death. So I guess I should be thankful my folks didn’t kill me for swearing at them under my breath when they wouldn’t let me have the car keys.

Even the most staunch Bible thumpers dismiss most of these judgments. So if you’re a tattooed, poly-cotton wearing oyster lover you’re in the clear. It’s hard to believe God would punish someone for touching a dead bird or planting different seeds in the same field. Instead it seems we only lend real credence to punishments stemming from sex, theft, hurting or killing.

“So would Jesus forgive a person like Hitler?” People often seem to target Hitler as the most obvious candidate worthy of eternal punishment. I find it difficult to accept that God’s so forgiving that all sins are washed away, no matter how egregious the offense. How could someone in violation of so many commandments possibly get a free pass into paradise?

Conversely, I realize no matter how good others of us strive to be, we’re riddled with sin and sinful inclinations. But all these paths seem to lead to the same place: what does it mean when it comes to heaven or hell?

Furthermore, isn’t God able to make us not sin? Isn’t the reason we’re spraying our water bottle at our classmates because He’s the one who sent us off to school with it in the first place?

And here’s where I find myself. I feel that there should be punishment for sins, but simultaneously find it difficult to feel people ought to be punished forever.

Ultimately I look at my daughter. She’s bound to have some choice words for me as she gets older. I feel pretty confident she’ll sin in a number of ways and maybe even do as I did and completely discredit Christianity for parts of her life. But no matter how far she drifts I can’t believe she’d ever get to a place that I was unwilling to not love her.

How could Christ, who places loving one another paramount in his preachings, be less forgiving of us than we are of our own children?

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