The Shack... Sin as its own punishment?

The Shack… Theological feature: God doesn’t need to punish people for their sins. Sin is its own punishment (120).

Comments: Young is working to overturn the stereotype of God as vengeful and judgmental, just waiting to hammer us rotten sinners for our wrongdoing. Setting aside Young’s theology for a moment, let’s applaud his attempt to do away with this damaging picture of God. However, to limit God to “natural consequences” is shortsighted and incomplete.

Remember the last two posts about God being “forgiving but not indulgent”, backed up by references to Ex 34 and Ps 103? That is the more complete picture of how God deals with sin. He does not sit passively by, allowing sin to be its own punishment. Well, no doubt he sometimes does that. But the Bible presents God as being active in dealing with sin. He is affected by it (he gets angry, saddened, etc.). He actively opposes it – either exercising judgment on people who aren’t in relationship with him or disciplining his own children. And he calls people out of it.

The God of Scripture does not use “natural consequences” as his only way of dealing with sin. Yes, sin is its own punishment. Hear, hear! However, Jesus himself, who displays the love and grace of God, speaks freely of the wrath of God. Still, Jesus shows us that wrath is far from being the most important thing to know about God. Love is. But love is never content to sit passively by, relying on natural consequences alone.

Interestingly, this is a point where Young's theology is inconsistent. He paints a picture of God as lovingly engaged with us. However, if God does not discipline us, then in a major element of human life, God is disengaged. He sits passively by, waiting for us to suffer the natural outcomes of our sin. In contrast, the Bible presents a picture of God in which he is engaged in all elements of human life, even if it means disciplining his children.

Postmodern connections: God is presented as wise and benevolent, not judgmental. This presentation of God is a correction to the damage done by Christians describing God as vengeful and hateful toward sinners. It is society’s way of rejecting that kind of abusive theology. However, society is overturning judgmental theology so vehemently that it is exceedingly difficult to talk about the wrath of God, which is a real biblical truth that we cannot ignore.

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