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Reward and punishment

Car_crash_1I don’t know about you, but I have often felt a grievous interior irritation when someone tells me the story of how they walked out of a terrible accident unscathed: “God has a plan for me.” “Oh yeah?” I wonder, “well, what about all those poor so-and-sos who perished or were terribly wounded? Was that part of God’s plan for them?”

It is easy to thank God for our blessings. Thank you Lord, for blessing me with good health. Thank you Lord, for blessing my family with a great school for my children. Thank you Lord, for blessing me with the most beautiful loving spouse. What about all those people who don’t have those blessings? Does God love them any less? Or worse, do they somehow deserve the rotten end of the stick they got? Am I blessed with rewards or privileges while God takes them away from others?

I don’t think God works that way. In fact, I don’t think God does anything in particular, that is, except through us. God’s doing is the blossoming of creation; God’s doing is the total outpouring of his self; God’s doing is love. We are invited to participate in God’s life and the first way we do that is, as we heard in the Gospel this week, “repentance.” Repentance in it’s truest sense—turning around. Returning to who we are, returning to what we are as heirs of the Kingdom. When we yield to the outpouring of God’s life within us—when we choose life, what else could the fruits be, other than loving the unlovable, healing the sick, freeing the prisoners, even walking on water? Did not Jesus say “You will do greater things than I?” (John 14:12)

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” (Luke 13:2-5)

Of course, there are consequences. When we do not turn around, when we do not return to who we are, when we refuse our inheritance, when we resist the outpouring of God’s life within us, what else could the fruits be, other than self-centredness, suffering, isolation and death.

Beginning with the fall, suffering and death are not a punishment, but rather the consequences of turning away from God, from trying to seize power and divinity by our own effort rather than yielding to the gift of life, forever in communion with the source of life. Lord, help me from choosing death over life, as I so often seem to do. Surely God does not save some people from car wrecks and not others, all part of a grand plan. If he does, I don’t want to be in the club.

Rather, I think God acts through us when we have turned towards him: we, who have yielded to his life within us, and who have surrendered their will to his. That, I think, is the true meaning of repentance—reward and punishment are just a human way of understanding God’s unfathomable love for all his children.

What a joy this Lenten journey is, this road to our inheritance, where true life is being restored, by the very author of salvation – by whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

Gregor Sneddon

About Gregor Sneddon

Gregor Sneddon is a Presbyter in the Diocese of Ottawa and the Rector of St Matthew’s, Ottawa. He received an MA from the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies and is the founding Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach of Eastern Ontario. Gregor is a council member of the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission and serves on the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation. He is a husband, a dad, and enjoys being in the woods, a good dinner party and swinging the blues.
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29 Responses to Reward and punishment

  1. ” Surely God does not save some people from car wrecks and not others, all part of a grand plan.” Seems like He does. God is sovereign ,all things that happen are in His plan and under His sovereignty. Heck even Satan is constrained by Gods sovereignty. Romans 9:14 “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

  2. Thank you for the reminder.

  3. God doesn’t micro-manage

    • Does he have an Apple or Samsung tablet?

    • God management is to the cellular level ,He is sovereign over every minute detail of life.

      • Gregor Sneddon

        What about free will Tony?

        • Man is free to choose and does choose according to the desires of his heart but unconverted man can not and will not choose the things of God ,God must enact change in the persons heart before they will choose the things of God. It says God hardened Pharaohs,He did not make Pharaoh sin ,He just withheld grace and Pharaoh did the desires of his heart which was to do evil. We just have to look at the life of Joseph, his brothers acted according to their free will but still under the sovereignty of God. When talking about the one action it is recorded and declared by Joseph “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good …” it all happen under the sovereignty and control of God. I go back to Romans 9 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”, “For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth.”, if mans free will trumps Gods sovereignty ,who is sovereign?
          Calvin said it best “…we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined.”

          • Gregor Sneddon

            Poor old Calvin and double-predestination! Sorry Tony, operating here from a totally different anthropology and soteriology than the well intended reformers and the lineage of feudal substitution atonement theology that in my view has deeply damaged us all. Augustinianism on steroids. Human nature is GOOD. Grace is freely given, and freely received. We participate in our restoration, freely. God does not transcend human free will and does not, as Ted suggests, ‘micro-manage’. Nor does he ‘punish’, his wounded children with acts of vengeance as the Old Testament may seem to indicate. Those are human categories attributed to God – and a sad hermeneutic that takes away human free will, and even Christ’s free will. It becomes, in my view, a tidy way to avoid the mystery of love crucified to find a wrathful God where things are black and white – the dualism of heaven and hell, good bad. Repentance must be lifted out of those juridical moral categories – repentance, metanoia is simply the return to the font, and passing again through the waters of baptism into the life in communion with God as God intends for us. It is a return, as God comes running down the lane calling for the finest robe and a ring for your finger. God chases us to return, out of great Love. God the Son reveals this love by deifying human nature, restoring it by transcending it, freely – NOT receiving a due punishment on our behalf from a wrathful god who wants his payment . If Christ, with his human will (dyotheletism) did not freely choose the cross, then it was not love, and human nature was not saved. Rather, human nature is restored in Christ and we are free to participate in that restoration as persons to share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). Abuse of children, violence toward the innocent, violent acts of nature and car accidents are not orchestrated by a loving God as part of a divine plan. Those things are the fruits of human beings turning away from the free offer of Grace, or the bad weather, volcanic eruptions, and perhaps poor timing – not punishments from a God in the sky waiting to smite those who aren’t chosen or pray enough. If there is a line of sinners kicked out of the god club, count me in, because at least I’ll get to share in the company of Jesus the Christ and his friends.

          • “Human nature is GOOD” where in the bible do you find support for that? “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”, “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” .These describe human nature without God.
            “We participate in our restoration” what can a dead man do toward his own restoration, nothing. No man “can” ,has the ability, to come to me unless the father draws him. We come to him of our own free will after He changes our heart. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this(faith) is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” It seem you follow more the Mormon thought “by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”
            “ where things are black and white” “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” also the separation of sheep and goats..seems pretty black and white to me
            Jesus freely chose to take the curse of the cross and pay our penalty, for his will, as he stated, was to do the will of the Father (John 6:38) For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
            “Abuse of children, violence toward the innocent, violent acts of nature and car accidents are not orchestrated by a loving God as part of a divine plan”. Are you saying God was unable to stop those things from happening or was he able to and chose not to for what ever reason? How did Jesus react with these occurrences “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” No God did not orchestrate those things to happen but they also did not happen outside the sovereignty of God. Was He surprised by their happening ,no, could He have stopped it from happening ,yes but He chose not to. As one theologian said “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” You know the proverb “For Want of a Nail” If mans free will trumps Gods sovereignty then we are the ones that are sovereign,not God.

          • Gregor Sneddon

            Human nature is good because it was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Surely God is sovereign, but he does not infringe on human freedom. Choosing God is always a choice. Thew great gift that humans share in potential with God is personhood. The freedom to choose, the freedom to love. The Theotokis had to consent to the incarnation. As Nicholas Cabasilas describes this operation in his Homily on the Annunciation:
            “The Incarnation was not only the work of the Father and of His Virtue and His Spirit; it was also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin. Without the consent of the All-Pure One and the cooperation of her faith, this design would have been as unrealizable as it would have been without the
            intervention of the three Divine Hypostases themselves.”
            God is sovereign yes, but as heirs with Christ, we wear the crown of immortality and the freedom of personhood – we participate.

          • So what you are saying is that God is sovereign but we are more sovereign.”Without the consent of the All-Pure One and the cooperation of her faith, this design would have been as unrealizable” Are you saying that Gods plan of redemption lies in the hand mankind and God had no role in her choosing I guess, God does play dice. That is fraught with theological problem, of which sovereignty is just one.”Human nature is good because it was made in the image of God ” yes but that image was tarnish in the fall and will not completely restored till the resurrection. We still live in that state of conflict between redemption and our old sinful nature(Rom.7)

  4. It might be that God’s only hand in controlling us is in his creation of temptation and what we and the rest of reality do with ourselves. We are put here and we can spend our time for good or for nought. We are given ten commandments, the gospels, and beatitudes. It’s about what we do with those, not about being steered individually by God. I don’t feel rewarded or punished by God, sometimes I may feel lucky or unlucky, but what I do with God’s gifts is up to me.

    • God is sovereign over every aspect of your life “who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness”,“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”. “You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?”,”The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.”

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Thanks Michael – I think above all, God preserves our free will. If it is not free, it is not love.

  5. God is good all the time! Thank you Greggor this is wonderful! Even in my darkest hours of my life God has always been with me and worked through dear friends to see me through! Thank you.

    • Gregor Sneddon

      Hey Tracey – I have always loved your words “God is a gentleman, he doesn’t insist.” I can’t tell you how many times I have repeated that!

      • Funny , I seems to me that Paul wrote “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,” Sounds pretty insistent to me

        • Gregor Sneddon

          Absolutely. If you know what the metanoia means.

          • Yes but the point I was making is that ,you said God doesn’t insist and here He is insisting or commanding something. The thing is ,man has not the has not the ability to repent unless God changes his heart.”No one can(ability) come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” God has to do something to give people the ability to come to him.

          • Gregor Sneddon

            He does not force anyone to receive the gift of life. Freely offered, to be freely received. If it ain’t free, it ain’t love.

          • It ain’t free ,it cost Jesus all. It is freely offered but can only be accepted by those whose hearts have been changed by God
            .

  6. We have free will, God doesn’t control us,but is with us always even when we or someone else makes bad choices.

  7. Pingback: Reward and punishment – The Anglican Parish of South Dundas

  8. Just one question , is there free will in heaven?

    • Gregor Sneddon

      This question was addressed at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in following the Fourth Council’s affirmation of the Chalcedonian Formula (Two Natures in Christ), the Sixth Council affirmed that Christ also possessed two wills – divine and human. This conclusion is pre-empted by the affirmation that the will belongs to the nature, not the hypostases. The Saints maintain their human nature in the Eschaton, and thus their human will – albeit deified. Their will and nature is restored into alignment with the divine will. Willing, properly understood, is not a ‘choosing’ like radishes over cucumbers, but the freedom to yield to one’s telos – the fulfillment of what one is intended to be, found in communion with The Holy Trinity. If you want to go deeper check out St Maximus the Confessor who is the Father one eventually needs to connect with on questions of the will.

  9. And if God changes your heart and not harden it, you will always,of your own free will, choose Him “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”

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