Psychologists debate the merit of whether individuals respond better to positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement. I believe that in the short term, negative reinforcement is a better motivator but for long term results, positive reinforcement is superior.
I don’t know if God agrees with this but certainly His commands, which are recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy, could support this. When the Israelites completed forty years of wandering in the desert, after being miraculously delivered out of slavery in Egypt, God wanted to spiritually prepare them to enter the promised land of Canaan.
The entire 28th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy focuses upon blessings and curses that await the Israelites depending upon their actions. It is instructive that the fourteen blessings that are listed in verses 1-14 begin with the following promise.
Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.
Deuteronomy 28:1 (NASB)
In contrast, there are at least forty eight curses listed in verses 15-68. These include such horrific statements like the following:
The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth. Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.
Deuteronomy 28:25-26 (NASB)
There are nearly three times more curses as there are blessings that are promised to the Israelites if they do not obey God. Why? If I was present when these cursings and blessings were being declared by God, wouldn’t I have obeyed God? After all, He performed ten miracles to deliver me from Egyptian slavery. He miraculously provided a nutritionally complete food, manna, to sustain me for forty years. Wouldn’t these be enough to ensure my obedience? Isn’t this positive reinforcement enough? It wasn’t enough for the Israelites, and I am quite sure, it would not be enough for me. Although no one wants negative reinforcement in the form of punishment, it may be the only way to break down our stubbornness and reluctance to obey God. Only when we are punished and learn our lessons will we be willing to serve God and receive the positive reinforcement and benefits that He desires to lavish upon us.
The wisdom of God is infinitely greater than our faithfulness to Him.
Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.