The Sweet Severity of Our Father
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’
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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:5-11
To discipline connotes correcting, pruning, learning, and humbling. Those are all good things that almost always come to us through bitter means, and scripture’s depiction of God’s sweet Father-love is consistently linked to the severe ideas of discipline and chastisement.
Chastening (the word in Greek refers to flogging) is sometimes dealt to us in the form of punitive pain, a direct smiting from His hand, an outburst of His holiness and anger. Like a switch for naughty children, reproof is the infliction of metered pain for a specific wrong action in order to prevent the continuance of the behavior.
It’s the earth swallowing up idolatrous Israelites. The striking down of Uzzah for his irreverence. The death of David and Bathsheba’s baby for David’s adulterous greed and vain cruelty. The time-limited disaster on Israel for David’s disobedient census-taking. The split-second dropping of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit. The sickness and death of Corinthian believers who were misusing the Lord’s Supper.
Because the ultimate punishment for sin has been fully paid for all Christians through the substitutionary punishment of Jesus, promoting us to siblinghood through His sacrifice (Hebrews 2:9-13), our loving Father will intervene in our lives with a rod of scathing humiliation that reminds us that He is not pleased when we disobey.
In my life, God’s punishment once took the form of the unexpected collapse of a friendship in which I was compromising morally, searing into my memory a sensation of pain that will reflexively appear to me if I drift toward something similar in the future; that swift sting ultimately made me want to be faithful and stick close to Him, and He’s led me to be very thankful for that kindness.
In addition, our sin-derived chastisement can take the form of natural consequences, like a father simply not jumping in to stop the pre-warned child from touching the hot stove; it’s the peeling, smarting skin He doesn’t immediately fix but can heal over time, often leaving a scar or three.
The results of lust are a prominent example of God sovereignly permitting sin’s foreseeable consequences in our lives: STDs, pregnancy without the proper support system, attachment to a person we shouldn’t be attached to, sexual numbness, impotency, wasted lives. It’s not so much a furious smiting, but the inevitable result of not seeking to be under His wing for protection from the furthest extent of our fleshly natures.
Due to those realities, I often assume that my suffering is always because of God’s reproving anger. While it’s vital I examine myself for un-repented sin that He might be calling my attention to, I also ought to learn from Job’s interaction with our Father; in my search for peace and understanding, I should forego asking, “Why are you punishing me though I’ve been obedient?”, and replace it with, “If it pleases you, will you show me Your purpose in this discipline?”
Or better yet, “Thank you for this discipline, LORD. I know you love me, and that this is for Your glory somehow; I don’t need to understand because I fully trust You.”
So why would God ever cause us pain if we haven’t offended Him? Because there’s still yet another type of severity, and it’s the most beautiful, tender, and caustic scourge of all. It’s discipleship training, when He says to us, “Come, child, take this tool in your hands and do this work alongside me. It may produce blisters and calluses, pain in your joints and unavoidable aches in the long run, but it will strengthen your muscles and make your life worthwhile and meaningful”.
It’s not because we’re naughty children; it’s because He wants to make us more like Him. Of course, He would take shears to the fruit bearing trees in His garden (John 15:2).
It could be a call to teaching, a tough relationship, the loss of a loved one, shouldering the memory of someone’s heinous sin against us, living unmarried in a world that cares little for the type of singleness God considers valuable, and beyond; this is disciple-pline.
All chastening and discipline is for the purpose of turning us toward him, but while punishment and natural consequences say “stop and turn around”, discipline says “keep forging ahead”. It proves to us that our faith is real, giving us pleasure in bearing His yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). He provided this intimate, face-to-face, discipline for Job (Job 42:4-5) and Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) and will do it for us, too.
I’m reminded of a verse from the old hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”:
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
So let’s respond to His affectionate reproof and discipline with zeal and repentance (Revelation 3:19). His warmhearted and wise Father-love causes Him to be severe with us because it always contributes to what is truly good for us: His glory.