Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We live in a culture that hates feeling bad. We don’t ever want to feel badly…about anything. More than that, we don’t want to make someone else feel bad. Well, that’s not totally true. We don’t want to make someone else feel bad when our name and reputation are attached to it. We’re happy to make people feel bad on social media where we usually feel safely anonymous all the time, but that’s a separate issue. And living like this in the abstract sounds really good (it’s not, of course, but it sounds like it). But when you take this kind of cultural movement and bring it into the world of parenting, you are going to run into problems sooner or later because parenting is the art of making kids feel bad at the right time, in the right ways, and the right amounts. And God is a good parent. Let’s talk about it.
In yesterday’s passage, the author of Hebrews introduced us to a new idea. Actually, that’s not quite right. He reminded us of an old idea. It is an idea that was first put forth by King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (aside from Jesus, of course). The idea was this: When hard times come, instead of getting upset or discouraged by them, we should look at them as discipline from our heavenly Father.
Now, that idea requires just a bit of unpacking. We normally think of discipline as something that happens when we are in trouble. We do something we shouldn’t do, and as a result are disciplined (i.e., punished) for it. That’s not what Solomon or the author of Hebrews have in mind. Instead, they are talking about discipline in terms of training with the goal in mind of becoming better or stronger at some skill that does not come naturally to us. This distinction is incredibly important to make lest we run the risk of completely misunderstanding what is being said here, and not in a good way. We are talking about situations when hard times have come our way as a result of the sins of others, not our own sinfulness. When our own sinfulness is the source of our troubles, those are consequences, not the kind of discipline the author of Hebrews has in mind here. God will still use those consequences to grow us, they’re just not what the author of Hebrews is imagining here.
So, with the understanding in place that we are talking about hard times that come to us through no direct fault of our own, we who claim to be followers of Jesus should consider them as discipline from a God who loves us.
What we are experiencing from God is the love of a good father. This is something you should really understand if you have ever taken on the journey that is parenthood. Kids do not make good and wise decisions on their own. In fact, on their own, they are usually going to make foolish and harmful decisions. This often isn’t done with any malice in their hearts. But sin isn’t always motivated by malice. They simply think only through a lens of curiosity or selfish desire without much thought of what the consequences might be. And they don’t give that much thought because they haven’t yet developed the sufficient critical thinking and foresight to be able to do it. This is where good parents come into play.
Good parents will occasionally have to put restrictions on their children to keep them from making unwise or harmful decisions. The thing about these restrictions, though, is that the kids probably won’t like them. No one enjoys have their imagined freedom to do whatever they please limited. Perhaps we will entertain the notion of voluntarily limiting ourselves for some higher goal, but when we move in the direction of having someone external to us prevent our pursuit of some whim or fancy, all bets are off. Children buck against rules. They buck against the consequences of breaking those rules as well. They’ll complain and argue and berate and use every other weapon at their disposal to get what they want. But good and loving parents hold the line. They sometimes leave their children to experience a taste of the hard consequences of a bad decision as a way to learn by practice. At our best, we sometimes actively, but with humility and gentleness, make our kids feel terrible with the higher goal of training them – of disciplining them – in the direction of godliness.
Well, guess what. Our God does the same thing with us. While we may inhabit grown up bodies, we are just as prone to sin and selfishness as our children are. We don’t lose that tendency very quickly or easily. So, God gives us opportunities and experiences to take steps in the direction of reflecting the righteousness of Christ. These often aren’t pleasant and can be quite painful. They are invitations to trust more fully in Him than in ourselves. But because we don’t do that naturally, such invitations come in the form of allowing us to face experiences in which we feel completely over our heads and out of control and the only way forward that escapes a whole world of pain and frustration is to trust in Him. Now, the form these experiences can take will vary wildly, but the net effect is basically the same. They are intended to grow us in faith. Because God is a good father.
What all of this amounts to for us is a perspective shift. But if we’ll take it, it is a truly powerful one. When we take this on, hard situations will still come. That won’t change. What will change is the attitude we bring into them. Instead of falling to fear or anxiety or anger, we’ll lean in the direction of faith. We’ll be looking with hope for how God plans to use them to grow us into the image of Christ. Our joy will remain unaffected by them. Given the choice between the two pathways, this second one seems a whole lot better to me. Give it a try and see what it does for your life.