Various Thoughts
On the Nature of Divine Law
and Punishment

Thoughts from various authors
in a Church & Science e-mail list

I view a law as a model. In simplistic terms, Newton's law of gravity is a mathematical description [F=GMm/r^2] "invented" by Newton to describe his observations of how masses and distances are related. General Relativity is a more comprehensive law invented to explain a wider range of observations.

I say, a law is a description, not a prescription. An invention, not a discovery.

For example, if you mean punishment, in the sense of hellfire, damnation, eye for an eye, then I must strongly disagree.

A more appropriate term would be "consequences". When I stick my hand over a flame, I'm not punished with a burn; no judge comes along and inflicts a burn independently of the flame. The burn is just the natual consequence of exposing flesh to fire.

The "punishments" that accompany sin are like those that accompany disregard for careful behavior in a world full of sharp and hot objects, steep precipices, electrical outlets and power tools. And, as all such pains would be where there is a perfect physician, they're of finite duration and completely curable. And, in fact, it's the pains that define sin: Sin is what hurts our souls. Grace and mercy through Christ's Atonement are the balm that cures the hurt, free for all who are willing to take them.

My parents have done all they can for a lot of years to shield me from consequences, not letting me play with knives, putting the matches on upper shelves, and warning of the grievous consequences of playing in the street. Had they ever seen me play in the street, they would have risked all to run out and get me to safety.

Forget hell-fire and brimstone. Sin carries its own punishment, God doesn't have to lift a finger to inflict it, and He does much more than lift fingers to keep us from getting into it, and healing us when we get into it anyway. As a bumper sticker said of gravity, it's not just a good idea, it's the law. A law that requires no judge, jury, or executioner. Next time you fall off a ladder, don't accuse God of making your landing a hard one.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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