Sin is Its Own Punishment

Sin is Its Own Punishment

Do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you. John 5:14c

There are a number of common and misleading teachings about sin. First and foremost is that sin is evidence that we are inherently bad or flawed people. It is not. Rather, sin is evidence that we are human. Sinful behaviors are what seem to distance us from God and others. But because God exists in the unseen, intangible realm of spirit and humans exist in the 3-dimensional, tangible realm of the earth, we appear to be separate from God simply by our human existence. We cannot see the intricate, spiritual weavings that bind us together with everything else, so we believe and act as if we are disconnected from God and from each other. The distance, however, does not occur because sin makes God move away from us, as if sickened by our disappointing presence. Sin cannot cause an actual separation from God, but only a lack of conscious awareness of our connection with God and others. When we behave in sinful ways, we suffer because our awareness has strayed from God. In that sense, sin is what teaches us how to consciously live more completely in God’s presence. God does not punish us for our sin; our sin punishes us for our sin by the natural consequences of having distanced ourselves by our actions. In other traditions it is called karma.

A second misconception is that sin is offensive to God, as if God might be surprised or angered by our separatist behaviors. We are created in the image of God, even though an inescapable consequence of being human is that we sin. God may not be amused, particularly if sin harms ourself or others, but I doubt God is surprised or offended. As long as we learn from our mistakes so we better align our existence with that of God, the painful consequences of our sin will keep redirecting us back in unifying directions. Sin is a goad to growth and maturation. Because of our sin, we learn how to live a more God-like life.

A third misconception is that God keeps track of our sins and, like a Santa-in-the-sky, one too many puts us on the dreaded Bad-Child-List. Another misconception is that we must somehow be purified of our sinful nature in order to be loved and accepted by God. Granted, we must be purified of our propensity toward sinful, self-centered behaviors in order to come into conscious alignment with the Divine, but that is how sin functions: by making the consequences of narcissistic and anti-social behaviors painful enough that we change. Sadly, some people seem never to get the message.

For me, one way to view sin is like hitting my thumb with a hammer. There is no one to blame but me, and the resulting pain serves as an effective teacher to become more attentive in the future. The pain of the hammer hitting my thumb is the teacher, just like our sin. God does not abandon us in our sin; we separate ourselves from the awareness of God’s presence as a natural consequence of our sin. If we believe, as I do, that God lives in, through, and with us, then God suffers with us in our sin. If we become obese and live with diabetes or other health issues, God experiences obesity through us. If we commit a crime that lands us in jail, God joins us in our cell. The consequences of sin are never borne alone because God lives through us, even in our suffering. God does not love us any less passionately. It is only our awareness of God’s love that waxes and wanes.

The Gospel is an invitation to grow in conscious awareness toward the Christ, to become more Christ-like. Paradoxically, our sin – at least the pain of separation it causes – motivates us to grow in ways that help us better realign our conscious awareness to God’s presence. God neither wants nor wills our sin or suffering. But when we hurt, God crawls into the hole (or onto the cross) with us. Contrary to how it may feel at the time, God does not run from suffering, God runs to it. And in our times of darkness, we often find ourselves craving a closer experience of the Divine. Our souls know we need reconnection to the Divine. We are motivated to transform those actions that separate us from what is good – our sin – and grow toward a life more expressive of loving union with God and others. Because sin is its own punishment, God neither keeps track of our sin, nor punishes us for it. The price of sin is automatically included because sin is its own punishment.

This is an updated version of a Life Note first published in November of 2016. The opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of others. To engage with me or to explore contemplative spiritual direction, contact me at

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