Punishment

One of Dante’s great insights* is that out punishments are simply when we receive what we’ve chosen.  The fact that what we’ve chosen makes us miserable is not some arbitrary punishment delivered by an authority figure, but a consequence of there being a path to happiness and peace and us stepping off that path.  We are unhappy because we’ve chosen to be unhappy.  God’s punishment is to let us have what we’ve desired. 

In other words, it’s a mistake to see the current situation, in any of its various permutations, as necessarily leading to chastisement.  Instead, we must realize that the situation is the chastisement.  We’ve stepped off the path into the brambles, and our thrashing around amidst the thorns is the punishment for doing so, not the cause of some future, independent, punishment delivered from above. 

The great mercy of God is that He retains His love for us amidst this thrashing and, even more gloriously, turns our chastisement towards the Good.  Perhaps, in our stumbling through the thickets we clear a path for our, and others’, return. 

* I call it Dante’s but it is certainly not original to him; it’s all over Plato, for example.  And I wonder if we might find even more traces in the epics, Achilles perhaps, something to puzzle over next time I read them.

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