Are Consequences Punishment?
“Now, all discipline, while it is happening, does indeed seem painful, not enjoyable; but for those who have been trained by it, it later produces its peaceful fruit, which is righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)
As parents, and indeed as children of parents, all of us know about consequences. We have experienced them, either as receivers or presenters. But do we really understand what they are? How many of us perceive consequences to be punishment? There is a difference.
Punishment is always an imposed penalty for actions seen as violating a behavioural standard. The Legal Dictionary, of the freedictionary.com, defines punishment as “Some pain or penalty warranted by law, inflicted on a person, for the commission of a crime or misdemeanor, or for the omission of the performance of an act required by law, by the judgment and command of some lawful court.” A simpler definition may be found in the Oxford Dictionary – the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offense (emphasis added).
A consequence, on the other hand, may be a natural or a logical response to an action. The Miriam Webster dictionary defines consequence as “a conclusion derived through logic” or “something produced by a cause or necessarily following from a set of conditions.”
What are some of the dangers of confusing punishments and consequences? In almost all circumstances, the punishment and the punisher are almost always linked. Remember back to the days when we were punished by one or other of our parents? Do we remember the punishment or the punisher?
Consequences, if they are truly logical or natural, are connected to behaviour. As a child, have you ever touched the hot element of a stove or an iron? Did you ever climb onto a table or bench and fall off? Did you ever run in the back yard and fall, scraping your knees? The pain and damage to our bodies, following these events, were very natural consequences of our actions. Notice they are not tied to anyone besides ourselves.
Logical consequences function in very much the same way. If a rule has been established and that rule is broken, there are consequences to pay. Traffic fines for speeding, making illegal turns, going the wrong way along one-way streets are logical consequences of behaviour. A policeman or by-law officer has the authority to issue the consequence. These are not punishments. Can consequences become punishments?
Parents sometimes confuse consequences and punishments. This confusion often comes, when the parent exerts discipline. How do we tell the difference? Punishments always contain a moral component. When a parent punishes a child, there is always a scolding, which transmits the parent’s anger. There should be no anger in issuing a consequence – it is a logical consequence following the breaking of a rule. When a parent finds a child has broken a rule, the child goes into their room for a time-out. There is no yelling by the parent. The child is told about the consequence, actually the parent reinforces the rule and its consequence. The parent can help the child work through the consequence, displaying the love the parent has for the child, but will not remove the consequence. Doing so will teach the child that the authority of the parent is weak. Eventually, they will regard outside authority with the same lack of respect. Now, what does all this have to do with God?
In Proverbs 3:11,12, we read: “My son, don’t despise Adonai’s discipline or resent his reproof; for Adonai corrects those he loves like a father who delights in his son. As He is the perfect, loving Father, God disciplines His children. God’s discipline comes in the form of consequences. Just as kind and loving earthly parents use consequences to teach their children, so God uses consequences for the same purpose. The only difference is we, as His children, may not understand at the moment, how the consequences are being used. Let’s use a biblical example.
Adonai had told Adom and Chava, Adam and Eve, not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. If they did so, the consequence would be their death. Unfortunately, neither of them listened to His command and were forced out of the Garden of Eden, as the consequence for their disobedience, and lived earthly lives. Notice, there was no moral outrage shown or anger displayed by Adonai. There was love shown, however, by His providing clothing for them, as they entered the natural world.
Some argue that these were not consequences but punishment. However, let’s examine them. The first words God shared with Adom, when He discovered their disobedience, were explanations of the consequences of their behaviour. There was no anger in these words, rather, He was very straight forward, telling them what a human life was and what they would now experience. Notice, before He removed them from the Garden, in Genesis 3:21, Adonai, God, made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. These were very logical consequences, which Adom and Chavah received, as a result of their disobeying God’s commands.
CONSIDER: When you received a natural consequence, as when you touched a hot element, who did you blame, beside yourself? As a parent, when you assisted your child(ren) to assume their logical consequence(s) did you do this with love or were there outpourings of anger included? Was this, for you, a punishment or a consequence?
ACTION: I urge all of us to develop a clear understanding of both punishment and consequence and learn clearly the differences between them.
PRAYER: Abba B’Shamayim, Heavenly Father, I know that my days of providing consequences and punishment to and for my children are long past; however, I pray You help me to retain the understanding of each and to be clear, when I interact with others, who violate others’ positions, perimeters and persons. I pray you allow me to provide sound teachings, when required, and love and kindness, when needed. In Your beloved Name, I pray.
May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bless you richly.