The Good Shepherd Never Punishes the Lost Sheep

“All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, as He is pure.”

Perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

Fear is slavery, whether it’s the fear of physical death or, far more importantly, the fear of spiritual death. Fear has nothing to do with the One who Knows, the One who loves us.

This is something I have really been seeing. When you don’t know up from down, left from right, backwards from forwards, right from wrong, does being afraid help you? No, being afraid of what will happen, of the mistakes you will make in your confusion, feeling guilty because you’re sure it’s your fault you don’t know, fear and shame – none of these help. These are chains and prison cells. These are despair and terror. They don’t help you learn, choose, try.

Fear of punishment. Fear, that if you mess up, if you don’t listen to what you ought to be able to hear, fear of what will happen because you’ve done the wrong thing in the past when you should have known better, or what will happen if you do that again, fear that you can’t tell right from wrong, fear of what God will do to you to “chastise” you for your faults, none of that helps anyone. It’s just chains and dungeons. It doesn’t give me the freedom to try.

Do you know what does?

Hope, not the wishful thinking, but the faith kind of hope. Confidence. Confidence that I’m not going to be left in any hells, self- or other- made. Confidence that, whatever happens, whatever I do, my Savior isn’t out to punish me, temporally or eternally. There’s no punishment at all. None. However stupid I am, however much of an idiot I am, however many mistakes I make, whether I should or should not have, did or did not know better. There’s no punishment, of any sort.

There’s only the Good Shepherd, who will never abandon His lost lamb. The Father, who’s always waiting for His sons to return home. He’s always, always there, to persistently, lovingly bring my way whatever is necessary to choose the truth, to become better, stronger, to become who I ought to be and who I want to be, to be able to be the person that I am no matter what I’m surrounded with, to be happy and certain and free. That’s all it’s about. Ever. No punishment. He will never, ever punish me. And He’s not responsible for any of the evil in the world, either. He doesn’t cause it, does not want it. His sovereignty is that He will heal all, He will bring strength out of weakness and hope out of despair and beauty out of scars. There is not a single evil thing or action willed by my Savior – it is, rather, that He will work all things to the good of those who love Him, to the good of those who are called according to His purpose – which means all, for He created all, knows all, calls all. There is no one and nothing outside His call. His sovereignty is that He is Immanuel – He is with us, He loves us to the utmost and the very end, and there is nothing in our experience that He is unwilling to suffer with us, in us. That is His salvation. There is nothing man or evil spirit has ever done to His creation that He has not suffered. No atrocity in which He is not with us, whether that is an atrocity we inflict upon ourselves, or one others inflict upon us.

That’s my hope, that’s my confidence. That’s what gives me the freedom to try, not to give up, not to despair, but to try, however feebly – and, to know, that even if I do give up, even if I do worse than give up, He has not given up on me. And even if I forget that, it’s still true.

A narrative of punishment, whether it says that hell is an eternal fire, or that hell is a temporary (but age-long) “corrective” punishment is poison to the soul.

I don’t really know what death is exactly or what happens at death. I know every step is a step further into the Heart of the Savior. Because that Heart waits for us everywhere. I don’t know if, at death, we will see His glory as it is and in one moment become perfect and free, or if journey after journey awaits us and we may at times think ourselves as miserable as we ever have thought ourselves on earth. I don’t know if the question has any meaning. I just know that death isn’t the end of life – that it isn’t the end of growing, of learning more and more, becoming more and more what we’re meant to be, what we are, of forming relationships, of knowing beauty, of both giving and receiving ever more and more love. I just know that the Savior will never punish us or give up on us, and that there is no need to ever fear that we’re doomed and beyond salvation. No need to ever question that He will find us and bring us back. No need to ever question that He will end our misery, not with annihilation, but that He will lead us on the way into happiness.



Copyright ©2022 Raina Nightingale

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