“Spare the rod and spoil the child” must’ve been tattooed on my
rump when I was a kid. Although I was compliant and didn’t get into
much trouble, both parents and three grandparents spanked me.
Ironically, punishment from Popo—my mother’s father, who never
laid a hand on me—hurt the worst.
Popo was gentle, funny, and extravagant with his attention. We
adored each other; I couldn’t spend enough time with him. If asked
to choose between visiting heaven or fishing with Popo, I’d fetch my
rod. But if I disobeyed him, he ignored me, which hurt more than a
dozen paddlings. Back then, I didn’t know the word “estrangement,”
but I knew it was hell, a word I wasn’t allowed to say.
While I’d never equate Popo with Jesus—and neither would he—I recall my beloved grandfather when I read, Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath (v. 36). That sentence has launched a thousand debates about heaven, hell, and going to either place.
John links belief and eternal life, aka heaven. But then we’ve got disobedience linked to not… life and God’s wrath, which sounds a lot like hell. What happens if we believe but disobey?
This is where Popo provided an example of God’s love. I
“believed” in and loved Popo, he loved me, and our relationship was
sweet. But when I disobeyed, he disciplined me by giving me hell,
separation from him, which was the worst thing I could imagine.
That taste of hell always sent me back, returning love and obedience
to the one who loved me unconditionally. Disobedience delivers its
own punishment, estrangement from God. Fortunately, that queasy
lostness can prompt our return, a taste of heaven.
How has God’s wrath prompted a renewed experience of divine love?
God, forgive us when we say we believe in you but fail to obey you. May the consequences of your wrath prompt our hearts to turn back to you. Amen.