Friday, November 01, 2013

Are judgement and punishment good? - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"In another way the useful is called good, not on account of its pleasing, but of its doing good. All which, therefore, is righteousness, being a good thing, both as virtue and as desirable for its own sake, and not as giving pleasure; for it does not judge in order to win favour, but dispenses to each according to his merits. And the beneficial follows the useful. Righteousness, therefore, has characteristics corresponding to all the aspects in which goodness is examined, both possessing equal properties equally. And things which are characterized by equal properties are equal and similar to each other. Righteousness is therefore a good thing." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Clement continues to answer the question how a God who threatens and judges can still be good. However, first we must examine the nature of righteousness. Righteousness is good, not because it is pleasurable or always desirable, but because its benefits are good. Consider what the scriptures have to say of righteousness. "He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life." (Proverbs 11:19) "Righteousness guards the one whose way is blameless." (Proverbs 13:6) "He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor." (Proverbs 21:21) We perceive righteousness as good even though at times it judges our unrighteous behavior and threatens us with the results of a live lived in unrighteousness. "but the way of transgressors is hard." (Proverbs 13:15 KJV) If righteousness can be good even though it threatens and judges, can not also God?
"'How then,' say they, 'if the Lord loves man, and is good, is He angry and punishes?' We must therefore treat of this point with all possible brevity; for this mode of treatment is advantageous to the right training of the children, occupying the place of a necessary help. For many of the passions are cured by punishment, and by the inculcation of the sterner precepts, as also by instruction in certain principles." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
There are some things in our lives that are not cured by the gentle and mild. Some habits, sins, and passions require sterner medicine to effect a cure. Part of our instruction is the judgment of those things in our lives that are worthless and the persuasion to adopt habits, patterns, and thoughts that are beneficial and lead to a good and happy life. Just as in the raising of children, such instruction sometimes requires judgment, correction, and punishment. To clarify, Clement enumerates some of the sterner modes of instruction.
"For reproof is, as it were, the surgery of the passions of the soul; and the passions are, as it were, an abscess of the truth, which must be cut open by an incision of the lancet of reproof. Reproach is like the application of medicines, dissolving the callosities of the passions, and purging the impurities of the lewdness of the life; and in addition, reducing the excrescences of pride, restoring the patient to the healthy and true state of humanity. Admonition is, as it were, the regimen of the diseased soul, prescribing what it must take, and forbidding what it must not. And all these tend to salvation and eternal health." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Not all of our Lord's instruction in our life is desirable or pleasurable, but it is always for our good. God uses these sterner forms of instruction because of His love for us in order that He might convey the greatest good to our lives. Judgment and punishment are not contraries to love; they both proceed forth from the one God who is love. Even in our daily examples we can easily see that one who is loving and who cares for our lives can, at the same time, out of necessity, be judgmental and punitive.
"Furthermore, the general of an army, by inflicting fines and corporeal punishments with chains and the extremest disgrace on offenders, and sometimes even by punishing individuals with death, aims at good, doing so for the admonition of the officers under him.Thus also He who is our great General, the Word, the Commander-in-chief of the universe, by admonishing those who throw off the restraints of His law, that He may effect their release from the slavery, error, and captivity of the adversary, brings them peacefully to the sacred concord of citizenship." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Thus God is good all the time, even at times when He must judge and punish. Even then, He is still loving and good.

David Robison

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