An interest in God, meta-physics, and religion dominated Tessa's life for half a century. A decade ago she walked away to become an atheist.
Why Is God Punishing Me?
I’ve heard those words a lot recently. It takes me back to an incident in my own life in 1980 – a few months after I was married. My husband and I had been invited by a group from our church for a walk on Table Mountain. I was hesitant about going. I knew that if I accepted the invitation that something bad would happen to the group, and it would all be my fault.
Sure as nuts, about thirty minutes after we arrived, it started raining. Now if you’re familiar with Cape Town weather, you will know that it – all too often – has four seasons in one day. So despite it being quite sunny when we had set out, by the time we arrived at our venue, it was overcast, and after we had been working for thirty minutes, the heavens opened up.
Of course, I just knew it was my fault – that God was punishing me because I had accepted an invitation to socialize. I felt terrible. I have never forgotten that incident. The guilt was terrible. Of course God was punishing me by making it rain.
They Psychology of Guilt
My mother grew up in a Calvinist family; my father was a Jew. Both those tribes know a lot about guilt. We do anything – smile too much, make a pretty penny, tell a white lie, whatever, and God will punish us. In fact, so punitive is our God, that he will also punish our children to the third and forth generation.
So when things go wrong in our lives, we know that God is punishing us. We’ve been taught that from birth.
Is it any wonder that I thought that God was punishing me because I had dared to accept a social invitation?
In Afrikaanerdom, they have this idiom. To translate, it means ‘From too much joy comes tragedy.’
Is God Punishing Us?
It’s a natural part of life that things go wrong.
We are having a garden party, and a tornado is on route to our part of the world.
We are on a beach in Sumatra and a tsunami kills my family who are on vacation –along with a 100,000 other holiday-makers.
We lose our job because the business we are working for is closing its doors or moving to Mexico.
We find are are HIV positive.
And so it goes - the misery of living and the terrible events that befall us all from time to time.
What Did We Do That God is Punishing Us to the Third and Fourth Generaton?
In the days that the scribes wrote those words – that God will punish us to the third and fourth generation, the elders often saw that play out.
A brother and a sister married each other, and DNA being what it is, the children were born with health issues.
The people of a village settled on a flood plain which had been dry for hundreds of years. Then, one day a storm comes, and half the village (a few hundred people) are killed as a result of a flash flood.
Village women weave linen and cotton together, and when they wash it, it shrinks unequally, and the new item of clothing is damaged.
In those days, people did not know why these things happened, and so they attributed it as a punishment from God.
So Was God Punishing Me?
I used to be the most profoundly ignorant person in the universe. I kid you not. At the time, although I had just turned thirty, I did not know that weather could change that quickly, nor did I know that it was part of the Cape Town climate pattern. I had also lived through so much abuse from my late mother that I did not know it was perfectly normal to accept a social invitation. I thought I was doing something very wrong.
And as I had been a fundamentalist, born-again Christian for some five years at that time, I was well-indoctrinated in the dogma of hell and damnation.
These days, I cannot think of a single thing I feel guilty about. Guilt and being punished by God are no longer part of who I am.
Sociaized to Feel Continual Guilt
Like many others, I had been socialized to feel guilt for far too many things. Make no mistake, guilt is a useful emotion when we do wrong things like steal, murder, corrupt, manipulate, etc. However, guilt for things that were not caused by us or guilt for things which are not wrong have more to do with the socialization we underwent at the hands of our parents or community.
When guilt is the result of our doing evil things, then the guilt helps us to admit to it and change our behaviour.
When guilt is the result of socialisation, then we cannot be happy or whole or live useful and enjoyable lives.
So Does God Punish Us?
That rather depends on whether you believe there is a God, what you mean by God, and if you think he dislikes you so much that he wants you to be miserable.
Let’s talk about how big God is.
Imagine there is an unending universe with billions of planets. A good percentage of these planets have many different life forms who are all doing trillions beyond trillions of actions every single moment of the day and night.
In addition, there’s the ‘gardening’ that needs to be done. You know? Make sure the planets and stars don’t fall out of the sky.
If you’re the queen of England, how much time do you think you’ll spend intervening in the affairs of seven-year-old Joe Soap because he stole a penny sweet?
Do you think the president of the USA would spend time sending his forces after you because you jaywalked across the road?
If you’re the head honcho of facebook, how much time do you think you’ll spend on checking every single post of every single person just in case they started a sentence without a capital letter? After all, he could be the world’s worst grammar-Nazi!
My point is that if there was a God with that much power, there is no ways that he would be investing time in the small deeds of mankind.
You could, of course, say to me, that God has so much power that he actually could watch every single life-form in his universe and punish them to the third and forth generation.
I take your point.
In response, I have to quote Epicurus. His trilemma says it all.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
If There is No God, Then Negative Events Cannot be Punishment From God
So Why Isn't God Continually Rewarding You?
Have you won the lottery lately? Were you cured of HIV by a simple prayer?
Did your leg grow back after you lost it in a car accident?
Surely if God was so willing to intervene in punishing you, he would be just as keen to reward you?
Because I’m pretty sure you have seen no such luck (or continual luck), I put it to you that God isn’t in the least interested in overseeing your life.
It's Bad Luck
Sometimes we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We made a decision to go visit Venice. On the day we arrive, it’s high tide. More than that, it is a perigean spring tide. Not being a Venetian, we know nothing about knee high rubber boots, and our clothes are unsuitable (and ruined) to say the least.
So was it bad luck? Or was it because we simply didn’t know that could happen. We didn’t know it was the time for a perigean spring tide. We had never heard of such a thing. We had no idea that Venetians wore knee high boots and waded through water. We didn’t know that cafes remained open and waiters continued to serve while water swirled around the feet of happy eaters.
So much of our bad luck is a result of our bad decisions.
We Can't Anticipate Everything.
We are not all-knowing, and despite our every effort to prepare adequately and avoid potential pit-falls, there are things we cannot anticipate.
We do not know the DNA and its possible outcomes of the person we marry. So we do not know if our children will be born without ill-effect. Come to think of it, we don’t know our own DNA.
We do not know that the job we have just taken has an evil man at its helm. We do not know if the hurricane currently forming ten thousand miles away from us will endure for a month and deluge our city (and our house). We do not know that the day after tomorrow, we will be traveling on the highway and we will be involved in a (minor) accident.
These are not things we can prepare for.
When they happen, they are not God punishing us. They are the outcome of many different factors coming together.
The butterfly effect touches our lives far more frequently than we acknowledge.
Study to Show Yourselves Approved
Timothy, a disciple of Christ said, “Study to show yourselves approved.” Of course, he means approved by God. I want, however, to say that by educating ourselves, gaining vast life-experience, and reading constantly, we can become aware of the many ways our path can vary as result of the decisions we make.
Good Luck Comes to Us Through Others
One of the great outcomes of good relationships is that good luck comes to us through other people.
So, yes, our house slid down a slope after an outpour directly after a fire. Our community loves us because in earlier times we looked out for them. Now they look out for us.
They are offering accommodation, helping us set about rebuilding, or simply there with a shoulder to cry on.
Life is Tough, But God Isn't Punishing You
You’ve watched the butterfly effect? Now you know how it all comes together and you can shed the guilt. You’re a good person – as apt to make a mistaken decision as the rest of us. You’re human. God is not out there watching you. You’re free of supervision. You’re the kingpin in your own life. You can figure out a way to turn the tables from bad luck to good luck.
May wisdom shed its light upon you.
© 2018 Tessa Schlesinger
Anjali Singh from Ghaziabad on December 20, 2018: