Do you remember what it felt like to be punished as a child? The moment you were found out? The moment your wrongdoing was exposed to an angry teacher, parent or guardian?
Maybe you have a more recent example? Perhaps you made an ungodly decision, a foolish choice and there have been consequences? Others are hurt, disappointed or cross. It may seem you’ve lost something of great value.
More than that, though, it may feel like God is punishing you…
The prodigal son in Luke 15 reaped the consequences of an ungodly, foolish decision. He wished his father dead, demanded his inheritance and took it far away to spend on loose living. He was attracted to something far removed from a life of honouring his father in the family home. His descent led to a muddy field with pigs. He longed to eat their food when there was nothing left of his wealth to provide for himself and no provision from family, friend, master or neighbour.
It’s the sort of dark moment that might lead someone to ask if they were being punished for their rebellion and ungodliness. Think about it. As the son looked around, as the pigs jostled him, as the sun beat down on his neck, it could feel a lot like he was being chastised. His nails were now ingrained with dirt. His fine robe had frayed sleeves and nasty stains. His stomach was knotted with hunger pangs. He might have reasoned that it would have been better never to have been given what he wanted if it had to end like this. All the good things that had been given by his father had gone. That feels like punishment, doesn’t it? It feels like just punishment for sin.
But if we look carefully at the prodigal, we notice that punishment does not feature in his story. At his lowest point in the field with the pigs, he came to his senses (v17). Reaping the bitter fruit of his ungodly and foolish decision he may have been, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
He sets out to return to his father who is looking out for him long before he arrives at the front door: …filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him (v20).
How many times have you heard yourself or others say that the Lord must be punishing you for that ungodly and foolish decision, for that sinful act? How often have you reproached yourself to try harder and not do it again!
Let’s not mistake the bitter reaping of our sinful acts for the Lord’s punishment. Let’s remember we are free to return to the Father whose only Son took the punishment for our sin once and for all upon the Cross. Let’s not hesitate to respond to his mercy and return to our Father who is looking out for us, longing to forgive us and restore us.
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
And as we reap the peace and joy of a restored relationship with God, the consequence of his mercy to us, let’s keep his commands so that we might go on reaping gospel peace as we look forward to the pure and sinless hearts he promises us when Jesus comes again.