If God is Perfect, Then…

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. Matthew 5:48

No mature spiritual view would think of judgment as torture imposed simply for past disobedience. But nor would it be fair for those who have killed and hated to live happily for ever. If the universe is morally ordered, there must be something like a law of moral compensation or desert – you will be treated as you treat others.

This is present in Jesus’ teaching. The Son of man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay every man for what he has done’ (Matt. 16:27). ‘With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get’ (Matt. 7:2).

Yet in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches that we should not resist evil, but turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:38), that we should love our enemies and those who hate us (Matt. 5:44) and that in this way we will be ‘perfect’ as your heavenly Father is ‘perfect’ (Matt. 5:48). At the very least, this means that God is not vengeful or vindictive, and will never cease to love us, even though we hate God.

That explicitly rules out any punishment that is purely retributive (an eye for an eye?), or any punishment that is a final cutting off of divine love and that does not express concern for our ultimate well-being. All divine ‘punishment’ must attend to what could correct our faults or teach us true compassion, not just mechanically do to us what we have done to others. And it must aim at bringing us back to God – it can never be solely retributive, harming us just because and to the degree that we have harmed others.

From Re-Thinking Christianity by Keith Ward (p. 84)