It is not your job to punish yourself
· Apr 18, 2023 ·

Over the weekend, my oldest daughter came up to me before church with a dollar bill and a guilty look on her face – the kind of look that makes you wonder who else is hurt or what else is broken.

"What's that for?" I asked her.

She explained that she remembered me saying I might charge her a quarter each time she started squirming at the kitchen table. She admitted that she had a case of the wiggles at breakfast minutes earlier, and since she was apparently keeping count, she now felt she owed me money from her piggybank.

The first feeling that washes over you as a parent in these situations is one of love mixed with horror. This is my child. I would die a slow, excruciating death for her, but she is so overcome with guilt that she felt it necessary to participate in a ritual of self-flagellation for her sins.

I had not pronounced her guilty, nor had I even set a punishment for her perceived crimes. She alone had taken on the role of jury, judge, and executioner and presented herself to the court for condemnation.

"It is not your job to punish yourself," I told her. "That is my job."

She gladly took her dollar back and went to get ready for church, but I was left in the hallway for a moment with a sense of deeper reflection that often comes from interactions in marriage and parenting.

"It is not your job to punish yourself..."

And yet, we do.

I do.

Different cultures have different norms around guilt and shame. In some cultures, public shame and dishonor to one's family is the worst fate imaginable. In other cultures, primarily the Western world, it is internalized guilt that rules us.

Culturally speaking, Westerners more easily see when someone in, say, China, might be twisted into doing something morally wrong via the external pressure point of family honor, but we don't see our own cultural blind spot, where we are twisted into doing something morally wrong by means of our highly-sensitized internal pressure points.

If you need proof, look at this thing we call "woke."

It is driven by the storms of personal guilt – those who are terrified at the thought of their "privilege" and "bigotry" and an incessant drive to "do better." These people have to "decolonize" their identity and become "allies" in order to rid themselves of their "oppression" and "racism" that (they believe) hurts everyone in the world around them.

For those outside the woke cult, this is laughable. It's a works-based religion with no means of salvation, and we see that it is, at the very core, a religion based entirely around oneself. It encourages guilty people to become the saviors of people they consider oppressed (and call said victims traitors if they don't think like they are supposed to), while allowing others to cash in on perceived victimhood. The narcissism makes for many hilarious articles here on this site!

But this error isn't limited to the woke. We do it too. Our culture amplifies it, but it is a universal human flaw, this desire to assuage our guilt at our own selfishness...and the irony is that we become more selfish in the process. It's thrived in every belief system, including the Christian Church, telling people that they do not measure up and they must do something, anything, to change that.

For our guilt-prone-but-licentious culture, self-punishment is the prescribed avenue to assuage the wounds of pride. We are bad, so we must do better, and then we can haughtily tell ourselves (and others) that we are good.

If my child tried this with me, I would shake my head. There is nothing they could do to make me love them more or less, but their attempts to do so by usurping my role as father would make me...well, angry.

How then do you think God Almighty feels when we take away His role as Father and Judge and prescribe our own punishments for ourselves, feeling sorry for the purpose of nursing our own prideful ego?

God says this in Isaiah 13:11:

I will punish the world for its evil, and wicked people for their iniquities. I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant and humiliate the insolence of tyrants.

God is the Judge; you are not. Maybe you need to hear that today.

If you are constantly punishing yourself for things you have done wrong, here is the good and bad news: That role is God's. Vengeance and judgement are His, and all who fall short of His perfection and glory will fall under His punishment.

But here's the even better news that cancels out the bad: God is not merely a Judge; He is a Father, and He loves you.

As a Father, He disciplines his children:

"Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline — which all receive — then you are illegitimate children and not sons." - Hebrews 12:7-8

To punish yourself then is not only usurping God's role as Judge, but completely ignoring His role as Father. What a travesty!

My dad isn't a judge. As such, if I were to be arrested, I would have no special favor under the law.

But if he were a judge, what favor or amnesty might I be granted if I broke the law? History might give us a few thousand examples of sons who escaped the gallows that way.

As Jesus said in Matthew 17:

"What do you think, Simon? From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers?"

"From strangers," [Simon Peter] said.

"Then the sons are free," Jesus told him.

If the wayward son of the judge receives leniency, how much more free are the sons of God!

But that begs the question: Are we all sons and daughters? What separates those who will meet God as Lawgiver and Judge and those who will meet Him as Father? You cannot claim special relational favor absent a relationship.

"The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus." – Galatians 3:24-26

Christ, God in flesh, took the punishment you and me rightly deserve for our wrongdoings, and as the Son of God, we have entrance into the family of God through his name. In him, we have the promise of eternity as adopted children of the One who made the galaxies.

Many of you reading this know and believe that, but you still punish yourselves. You still do things meant to correct yourself that end up stoking your pride, causing you to sin. How such things mar the race set before you!

Don't do it. Strengthen your legs. Hold your head high. Learn to be disciplined by God and accept His corrections. Follow Christ's example.

Don't lie about what you have done (admit it!), but live in the truth that if you belong to Christ, you are free.

Live as a son or daughter, not as a slave!

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