The Fatherhood of God is a truth that is easy to neglect when we focus on warning people of judgment to come. Throughout the Old Testament, even as He threatened Israel and Judah with judgment, God kept the offer of restoration open. (Note Jeremiah 3 where God repeatedly refers to His people with terms like wife, children, and sons and calls for their return.)
God’s restoring love
God favours restorative justice over retributive justice. We see that He would rather discipline His children to bring them back to Himself than to punish them and let them perish in their sin.
That God does ultimately let people walk away from Him into condemnation should not take precedence over the message of God’s longing for restoration with sinners (whether believers or unbelievers).
The abuse of punishment
The big threat of retributive judgment is an easy stick to wield as we seek to keep people in line, but it is also easy to abuse—and it gives people a skewed view of the heart of God. This results in something I have observed from time to time among believers.
Occasionally, I have been approached by Christians who are suffering some kind of trial, perhaps a reversal of economic fortune, loss of a job, ill health, death of the family member, or some such personal calamity.
The question they ask is, “Why is God punishing me?” The idea of God as a punishing judge has been so reinforced in their thinking, that they assume that anything bad that happens to them must be His judgment.
Bringing us back to God
It is true that God allows us to suffer the negative consequences of our sin and, from time to time, actively disciplines His children, but His purpose is always to restore us to relationship with him, not to punish us.
Punishment is about retributive justice, but that was taken care of at the cross when the Just suffered for the unjust that he might bring us to God. To suggest that God punishes believers now, erodes the truth that Jesus paid the full price for our sin once for all on the cross.
A loving Father not a judge
Recently, as I’ve spoken on this subject, I have had people approach me with tears in their eyes thankful for the reminder that they no longer face an angry Judge but a loving Father—eager for the restoration of familial intimacy.
Just as the prodigal returned to find his father ready to throw a party for him because of his repentant return, we can be assured of a positive reception to the home of our Heavenly Father.
Punishment should not be the way of the church
There is an important practical aspect of this as we relate to each other. We don’t need to punish the repentant by withholding fellowship or embarrass them with long lectures highlighting their wretchedness.
Let us continually announce the invitation, to believer and unbeliever alike, that God’s purpose in all of the circumstances of life is to draw us to Himself—restoring fellowship that has been broken by sin. Let us open our arms wide as the Father’s faithful representatives and restore those who turn, or return, in repentance.