We Aren’t Punished for Our Sins; We’re Punished by Them

The Bible and the resultant Judeo-Christian ethic it helped create has had a huge influence on the development of western civilization over the last 3,000 years. Much of it has been has been helpful; especially the emphasis on morality. From an evolutionary standpoint this, no doubt, is a major reason why Western civilization has grown and flourished.

But there are also shortcomings and falsities in the Bible, many of which resulted from the ignorance and superstition that plagued ancient man. One of these is the notion of a paternalistic, vengeful God who keeps track of each of us and punishes us when we err, or sin—the scorekeeper in the sky.

At the same time there do seem to be forces at work that reward good and punish evil. These rewards and punishments aren’t always on the physical level. Oftentimes unethical characters seem to prosper, on the surface at least. Through harming or undermining others, they may amass fortunes, live in mansions and drive expensive cars. But these are just superficial manifestations; they don’t reflect what it is we all want deep down inside—inner peace and contentment.

A decade ago we bought a new house in a small development from a homebuilder who eventually proved to be a highly unscrupulous character. We did not get ripped off by him but others did—one elderly couple to the tune of $200,000, and a title company to the tune of $250,000. Many subcontractors lost their shirts.

As the facts about this homebuilder came to light, we learned that our development was just the tip of the iceberg. He was one of these characters who, with the help of a corrupt attorney, played the bankruptcy laws like a fiddle. He made his living going from state to state, building homes, falling behind on his payments to lenders and subcontractors, pocketing buyers’ deposits and then, when no one else would do any more work for him, declaring bankruptcy and moving on to the next state with a million dollars or more in his pocket. The one good thing I can say about this guy is that he built really nice houses.

It was evident from the beginning that this guy was not at peace; it takes a lot to keep a scam like this running. He was anxious, fidgety and would never look me in the eye. It turned out that he and his girlfriend had a serious cocaine problem. And he surely must have had the constant nagging fear that one of the subcontractors he stiffed would take things into their own hands. But they had their horse ranch in San Diego County were they would fly to for long weekends to escape. To what? More stress, more cocaine, more paranoia, more scheming.

While this builder is an extreme example, his discontent exemplifies the price that all of us can pay when we intentionally do things that harm others. He had all the accoutrements but was missing the key ingredient that all of us want (even though we may not be aware of it)—inner peace and contentment. The best term for this is karma. Or you reap what you sow. Or what goes around comes around. Whatever you want to call it this is the real way we are punished by, nor for, our sins.

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#1 Barbara Siragusa on 03.20.08 at 8:46 am

This is a great article. Thanks for sharing.

#2 Jane Doe on 03.23.08 at 1:04 am

I believe some people lack a conscience, especially after reading various psychologists’ articles on what makes someone a “sociopath.” Such people do not have the capacity to enjoy things that the rest of us do, like inner peace, love, etc. They get their pleasures from acquiring wealth and power, and sometimes from getting away with things or even inflicting pain on others. (Can be financial pain–they don’t all turn into serial killers!) Such people do not suffer from “what goes around comes around,” unless they are caught and stripped of their wealth and power, and no longer get away with things or harm others. They will not “learn” not to do these things. The best we can do to protect ourselves against them is find out who they are and avoid them.

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