Punitive

The punitive God of the Old Testament.

That’s what people think.

Joshua and the Israelites are told in chapter 8 to do to Ai as they did to Jericho, only taking its spoil and livestock, but killing the people. This kind of thing is what skeptics hold up as barbaric and indicative of biblical madness meaning either that God is a gleeful and sadistic lover of violence, or that the Bible is not a holy and revealed word but made up by sinful people, leaving us no actual guideline from a lofty, non-specific kind of god.

Jesus passes most of the postmodern scrutiny, but Jehovah? Where do we find the punitive spirit of this bloody passage in the compassion of Jesus, if they are supposed to be one God? Actually, as I was thinking about it this morning, we kind of do. Jesus’ compassion extends to the depth of forcefully removing all that could separate us from him, surgically if necessary. Jesus calls on two occasions in Matthew’s gospel for us to tear out our eyes (Gloucester-style) and cut off our hands and feet if they cause us to sin. (Matt 5:29-30, 18:8-9)

Sometimes, when caught off guard, I don’t know what to say to such objections about Jehovah’s cleansing instructions. It is a matter of state of mind: If I’m not absolute enough with myself, I’m going to be offended when God is absolute with other people.

I normally do not consider cutting my arm off. It sounds barbaric. If I were Aron Ralston (in 127 Hours) trapped between a rock and a hard place with the choice to die there or to cut my arm off and possibly escape, I might consider it. And funny enough, Gloucester ‘saw better’ which son loved him and which one did not after he lost his eyes.

127 Hours

 

Gloucester Edgar

Edgar finding his father

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Discipline and Punish

Positive reinforcement. Encouragement. Suggestions. Warnings. Consequences. Time outs.

Some educators and parents I have come across in Canada/North America tend to be more lenient than your average Asian (or other culture) regarding discipline. Some don’t believe in punishment. ‘Learning should be positive.’ Aye, instead of telling people what not to do all the time, we should be suggesting what they should do. That is a splendid way of being positive yet corrective. Still, I submit that punishment in the right context is essential for a good parent/educator:

  1. Punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love. (Love the person, not the behaviour.)
  2. Those subject to punishment must be made aware of the possibility and consequence of punishment.
  3. Punishment should take the individual into consideration. (What is the person’s track record?)
  4. Punishment must be proportionate to the transgression.
  5. Punishment needs to be reasoned, not emotional.

I am inclined to claim with confidence that punishment meted out from someone also giving unconditional love is more appreciated than tolerance from someone not giving an assurance of unconditional love. I feel this topic is too vast for me to expand upon with the amount of thought I have given it (some 15 minutes on and off) but that bold line, that punishment must exist in the context of unconditional love I believe to be key. Without unconditional love there is nothing to discuss as far as educational/growth related punishment goes. (Not really talking about legal punishment.)

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The system that God has going with us reflects all these things. Given, the ultimate punishment for sin (death) Christ himself suffered for us [1], but God allows suffering (a consequence of punishment) to take place in the world (suffering being the residue of sin/misbehaviour) for our good [2]. We are made aware of eternal life vs eternal separation from God through God’s revealed word, but even without it, we are aware of our mortalness [3]. God deals with each person according to the individual and everything we do is relevant. [4] God does not function according to moods as we do [5].

[1] This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
[2] For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. -Romans 6:23. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… -Romans 5:3-4
[3] Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. -John 3:36
[4] Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.” – Ezekiel 33:20 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. – Matthew 16:27
[5] “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – 2 Chronicles 20:21  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

Disclaimer: This post has barely anything to do with Foucault’s text. I just wanted to make a literary reference to a text that gives a negative idea of discipline and punishment for the purpose of ironic juxtaposition.