Punishment is a scary word. It conjures up pictures of time-outs, being grounded, and awkward meetings in the principal’s office. It brings back feelings of shame and guilt. The idea of punishment, and even the word itself, have a mean edge to them. History is full of unjust punishments and punishments done with an angry spirit, which make us recoil. How, then, do we process the idea of punishment in the Bible, and more personally, when we receive punishment?

First, a better word for “punishment” is “discipline.” When a parent disciplines their child, it is in a spirit of keeping them protected from self-destruction and hurting others, and training them to be a better person. The Bible says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:6, ESV). When we make choices that go against the law, or the rules of the house we live, we have consequences to face (see Gal. 6:1-10), but this doesn’t mean our families or God don’t love us. People in authority who don’t act when people do wrong are the opposite of loving. They are indifferent, which is not good, either.

When it comes to dishing out consequences, God says, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek. 18:23, NIV). He sets life and death before people and calls to them to choose life (see Deut. 30). God isn’t interested in hurting people, but He sometimes allows consequences in order to produce change in us. The apostle Paul went so far as to say he handed two people “over to Satan,” based on their choices, in the hopes that they would come to their senses (see 1 Tim. 1:19-20). But our God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps. 86:15, ESV). When we do wrong, it is best to own it and accept the consequences, knowing that God’s love and forgiveness are still ours.