DOES GOD PUNISH SINNERS TODAY?
It is a question that comes to mind in many new Christians, and that is answered in different ways.
Some think that God does not punish, not only because it is against his perfect loving nature, but also because now we are living under the alliance of Grace (John 1:17; Romans 6:14); in other words, God is obligated to endure human sinfulness with patience until the time of Judgement comes.
Others think the opposite. They consider that God does punish people on Earth who are stubborn in their practice of sin, since He is almighty and alone can decide when to punish and when to be lenient.
GOD’s PERFECT NATURE
Firstly, we must understand the nature of God.
God is the maximum perfection in the universe. Any other kind of beauty and harmony, emanates as a created reflection of the eternal beauty and harmony of God’s nature, and so with other virtues, and knowledge and goodness in the universe, at all levels. And one of them is Justice.
As Supreme Justice, God cannot allow the existence of evil and imperfection. His perfect sense of Justice, being part of his divine nature, cannot allow it, and automatically rejects and destroys imperfection and evil. As it is, God could call everyone to account and dictate sentences right now. But God also is the supreme fountain of Love, and a balance needs to be established between these two.
In his Love and infinite Wisdom, God can postpone this account giving, and therefore, sentences, rewards and punishments, to a later date, since He is eternal, there is no moral compromise, since the linear time does not affect our Creator.
Driven by this perfect love, God saw appropriate to create us like Himself, in his ‘likeness and Image’; meaning, with similar faculties, and similar physical appearance (Genesis 1:26-27); and He also sent part of Himself, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to pay for our guilt, so that we could be free from our just punishment in the Day of Judgement (2Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:14), if we take his offer of faith and repentance (Mark 1:15).
In this way too, God postpones the inevitable punishment that will be handed over to sinners, in the hope that they may repent and come to Jesus before that, to attain absolution for their sinfulness, and thus, be found clean and free from his punitive Justice (2Peter 3:9).
THE TIME OF GRACE
Since the patience of God becomes evident in the atonement of Jesus, waiting for the repentance of the whole world, this punishment is greatly postponed, until we either die, or the time on Earth is finished and we are called to the Great Judgement; which will inevitably come, and will be terrible when it does
This time of divine waiting, however, does not cancel the Justice of God. Punishments and Rewards are to come, but later, when the last man to be born makes the decision to accept or reject the atonement of Jesus, and then the accounts will be settled.
Even in this time of Favor, the punitive side of God burns actively, always waiting, either to glorify the saints, or to destroy the wicked. But it waits, patiently, the time appointed (Matthew 25:30).
GOD PUNISHES TODAY
Another equally important aspect of this problem, is to acknowledge that immediately after death, the destiny of a person is sealed forever.
Regardless of when the resurrection may happen and when the Last Judgement may take place, our destiny, either for salvation or perdition, is decided by the time we finish our life on Earth. While the souls of the living await in Hades or Glory for the resurrection (Luke 16:22-23; Revelation 6;9-11), they cannot change their final destiny after death.
Since the Bible teaches that every person is born and dies according to a prescribed decision from God (Luke 12:25; Acts 17:26), it is clear that God’s patience depends only on his own decision and reasons, and that time varies from person to person. In fact, God has the power to decide to long suffer or short live sinfulness in every individual; and thus, pass sentence at any time, calling us into account at his own decision.
When that happens during our life on Earth, we call that punishment, as it happened to Ananias and Sapphira, when death came upon them unexpectedly, after they lied to Peter about the sale of their property (Acts 5:1-10), with Herod, when God sent him an infectious disease (Acts 12:23), or when God took the lives of those who participated of the Holy Supper in open sinfulness (1Corinthians 11:30). In all these cases, the time of ‘Grace’ was suddenly brought to an end for these people, and a quick sentence was dictated for them, taking place immediately. In all these cases, it is understood that God punished these individuals, and their time of patience was called to an end in their case.
This, however, must not be confused with the disgraces that automatically come upon those who practice sin. Every sinful action, attracts some kind of negative effect, which is the reason why they are forbidden. These negative effects are automatic, and are not a ‘punishment’ from God as such. They come as automatic direct consequence of the evil people commit. That is the case with the venereal diseases sexually promiscuous people acquire (Romans 1:27), and physical distortions babies suffer due to their parents intoxicating habits.
A third category, is Discipline.
Many times, God allows something temporarily bad to happen to his children and favorites, to bring them back into repentance, or reflection, thus saving them from condemnation. For this reason, the Bible tells us that to all those whom God loves, God disciplines (Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6; Revelation 3:19).
As a general rule, patience and longsuffering is prevalent from God’s side while the Christian dispensation is active, waiting God patiently, for people to come to repentance. However, in certain occasions, God decides to put and end to the waiting, and sends terrible judgement over all those who persists in their sinfulness and are beyond repentance.