There are those who maintain that God adds punishment on top of our sins. That he thinks up ways to make our lives worse than our foolish behavior already renders them. These are the people who have never seen their own reflection after they fell. They don't even believe they have ever slipped and fallen themselves. They have never heard the voices in the night, that scream out every failure and every mistake. They don't know the burden of being unforgiving towards ourselves. They don't replay pictures in their minds of that one poor choice, or that one drink, or that one harsh word. They have never come home to an empty house where children's voices once filled the air. They have never stood at the grave of a friend or a parent and wished it had turned out different. They have never awoken in the pig pen, smelling like a pig and having pig crap on their clothing and broken down in sobs because they are sure that because of that one decision, all they will ever know is this pig pen, and these pigs. They have never lied to themselves that it wasn't really that bad because deep down they had lost all hope that they could ever leave this pig pen...and go home. They are the whitewashed sepulchers that hold the bones of bondage and fear and doubt. Bondage to the shame that our sin forces on us. Fear that we have lost all contact with anything good...and dread that this is true. Shame at the thoughts of what we have become. The reflection we catch in the mirror or in the shiny bauble that lured us away in the first place. They are the people who have decided that this pig pen wasn't bad enough. That this shame and hurt and fear and self loathing I carry because of my sin...or because I was sinned against...isn't enough and I need to suffer more. That God watches with His arms crossed as I writhe in pain and as I stoop lower each day under a burden of shame and He somehow decides that isn't good enough...that I need to suffer more. That memories and visions and echoes and loss aren't already breaking my heart more than I can bear it being broken and He wants to grind the tiny fragments that remain.
I learned this about God from those pious brothers who told me this about him. Who steered clear of the pig pen because they might get some on them. Who shouted from a safe distance, telling me how bad I was and how this was what I had coming and how God was going to add even more to this. More to the pigpen. More shame on my unbearable shame. More pain...if He can find a sliver of my heart that doesn't already ache. I learned God was wringing His hands in disgust and dreaming up ways to make my life hurt more. Finding something further to take away. Some kernel on the cob that the pigs might have missed.
They lied. The fact is that the moment I chose what I chose or the moment someone else chose what they chose and it affected me...the moment a wedge started to drive it's way between my Father and I...that was the punishment. The loneliness...the shame...the horror...the fear and doubt and flashbacks and what-ifs. That is the punishment. Those are the built-in jail terms we serve for letting our humanity win over the love of God. Then our jealous older brother decides he hates this grace that our father keeps referring to. He hates Him for standing out at the edge of the property every morning and evening waiting for us to come home. After all...HE never left. He never screwed up and chose poorly or just plain sinned on purpose. He did it right and he is better than I am and he is mad that our father still loves me so much that he misses me so terribly. He knows our father has sent people to find me and to relay the message that all he wants is for me to come home...that there is no punishment at all...that the life I am mired in IS the punishment. But the older brother heads them off at the pass. He finds me first and shouts loudly from the safety of his perfect, pristine judgementalism. "Daddy doesn't want you anymore...look at you!" "Daddy doesn't love you anymore" "Daddy is so angry with you that if you come home he'll really take you to the woodshed! Look at you! Who could love what you've become?!"
After a while I start believing it...we start believing it. Because after all...it's my brother telling me this. I look up to him. He did it better than me...he did it right. And so I stay in this pig pen and in this filth and I lower my gaze a little more each day and I slump even more under this enormous weight and I turn my eyes away when I catch my reflection. I scream in anger to drown out the voices that keep screaming in my ears at night. I cry when nobody is looking and claw at them when they are. "I help you up a ladder to watch you dangle from a rope..."
...and I wish I could go home