“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (ESV – Read the chapter)
Facing hard stuff is something we all have to do at some point in our lives. It may be a little hard. It may be a lot hard. But in a broken world, hard stuff is part of the journey. The only variable here is how we handle the hard.
In this, we always have a choice. Will we look at it fatalistically as bad stuff that happens and we have to just deal with it? Will we try and spiritualize it in some kind of way? Will we look for some sinister force behind it all?
The author of Hebrews offers another way to see the hard here. They are incidents of God’s discipline in our lives. Now, in order to understand this properly, we need to understand what is meant by “discipline.”
We are primed to think about discipline in negative terms. When we have done something wrong, we are disciplined. Discipline is a punishment in this sense. If we are thinking in these terms, this passage becomes even harder than it already is. In this case, the hard things we face are times when God is punishing us for having done something wrong. But, what if we are facing a hard situation and we believe we are innocent? It could be that we have something dark hidden away in our psyche (as indeed Job’s friends were all convinced he did) and need to keep digging internally until we uncover it, or it could be that we aren’t thinking about discipline in the right terms.
Discipline can be a punishment of a kind, but it could also be something entirely more positive. Discipline can be viewed as training. In this sense, disciplines are hard things we put ourselves through with a higher goal in mind. If you want to win a race, you discipline yourself to run every day whether you feel like it or not; whether it hurts or not. This is discipline, but the good kind that is positively purposeful in its orientation.
If this is the case, then the various hard things we face are efforts on God’s part to accomplish something positive in us. Well, what could it be that God is trying to accomplish in us? How about making us more complete in His image? What will accomplish this? How about experiencing hard situations that encourage us to deepen our faith and trust in Him? How about putting us in places where the only way through is for us to lean hard into Him during which time we come to more deeply appreciate and commit to such a state for our normal lives? There are many more ways to see it along these lines, but the point should be clear.
If we see the hard times we face as efforts on God’s part to make us more like Him, more complete in His image, all of a sudden they become much more bearable. Rather than being lost in the unknown, we are walking in the arms of a God who loves us completely and has our best interests in mind. What’s more, He has things well in hand and will not let them go beyond what He knows we need to face with His help. (That is very different, by the way, from saying He will not let us face more than we can handle. That’s a pop-theology idea that finds no support in the Scriptures at all.) This is the God we serve. Let us trust ourselves ever more fully into His hands.