THWACK! ! !
Do you know what that sound is?
It’s the sound of one of God’s cosmic “spankings.” Though our first instinct is naturally to cry, it’s a cosmic mistake to misinterpret one of God’s spankings. So let’s get rid of a few misconceptions about God’s spankings right here and now. As parents who discipline their children, you’ll immediately recognize that this is the way things work in your family, or at least the way you know they should work. So let’s look at a few misconceptions, things we’re tempted to believe, even when they aren’t consistent with what we know of our loving heavenly Father.
First, the fact that God spanks us (or disciplines us, if you prefer) doesn’t mean that He no longer loves us. Sometimes kids, when disciplined, are inclined to think or say that the discipline must mean that the parent doesn’t love them. But this is almost always a lie, and the kid usually knows it. It may well be that the kid is simply feeling sorry for himself or smarting from the spanking or discipline. As I’m quick to point out to my kids whenever they get disciplined: the fact that I’m on them like a hawk is not a sign of disinterest or anger but of love.
Second, God’s motive for spanking us is not anger but love. God doesn’t fly into a rage because we’ve sinned and then let loose with one of His divine whoopings (thank God). He’s not waiting around the corner, spying on us, just itching for a chance to try out his new paddle. It’s true that God’s wrath will be poured out on the ungodly, but we’re speaking here of His children that He’s adopted through His Son. Is He disappointed in our continued sins? Sure. He might even have anger at times, when we continue in our rebellion – I’m not sure. But His overall attitude is one of love (which is not always inconsistent with a godly anger). I think it was God the Father who first uttered the famous patriarchal words: “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”
Third, the point of God’s spanking His children is not punishment but discipline. As earthly parents and children, sometimes we’re deceived into thinking that the whole point of discipline is to inflict or receive pain. We think only in terms of justice so that if I’ve sinned 10 units of sin against my parents or someone else then my parents should administer 10 units of pain. (I’m thinking of marketing a computerized Sin-O-meter, but don’t answer yet – you also get the Pain-O-meter for the low, low price of . . . .) God doesn’t punish His children so that they get exactly what they deserve (thank God!) He disciplines us so that we “no longer live the rest of our time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (verse 2). Even the Son of God learned obedience by what He suffered (Hebrew 5:8).
The point of the divine spanking is not the pain itself but the repentance that comes from it. The point of suffering in your life, which can’t be treated as a 1-to-1 correlation between your sins and your suffering, is to bring you back to God. When a child is spanked, there are several related goals. First, the child is reminded that what he has done is wrong. Second, he remembers the pain and can use it to remember to not sin in this way in the future. Third, the child is reminded that he is under the authority of his parents who are there to love and help him. The same is true for our loving heavenly Father and us who are His children.
What if we considered the suffering in our lives as the discipline of God in our lives? What if we saw the suffering in our lives not as arbitrary bad things that happen to good people or as God’s angry punishment of our all-deserving sins, but as His loving staff applied to us to bring us back to Him? We’d lead more peaceful and joyful lives.
St. Peter says something astounding in verse 1, which is that “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Now obviously the mere fact of suffering doesn’t sanctify us. For most people, including many Christians, their suffering has nothing to do with the state of their souls. It also can’t mean that if we’ve suffered (even righteously) that we’ll be released from all sin. But it is true that when we suffer and see it as God’s loving discipline, then it does, indeed, sanctify us.
When God rears back His hand and THWACK!s us, we have a perfect opportunity to turn back to Him and obey and please Him again. The suffering in our lives, when seen as divine discipline, causes us to sanctify God in our hearts (3:15). It causes us repent – to turn from ourselves and turn back to God so that we’re facing Him. And this is the whole point of these cosmic spankings: to lead us back to God.
In a strange twist on this action of discipline and repentance, the more sanctified you become, the more like Jesus Christ you become, the more you run the risk of having people in your culture think you’re strange because you don’t run with them in the same flood (interesting word choice, in light of 3:18-21) of dissipation (verse 4). They will speak evil of those who stand in silent witness to their evil deeds, and this will likely produce even more suffering. But what a blessed suffering – to be persecuted for Christ’s sake! To be so united with Christ in sanctification, by the Spirit, that you are mistreated by sinners for His name’s sake!
Therefore, arm yourselves with the same mind that Christ had, who humbled Himself to the point of death, who learned obedience from what He suffered, and who suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust.
“My Son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs3:11).
“For they indeed (human fathers) for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews12:10-11).
Prayer: Lord, when I ask for strength, that I might achieve,
help me to accept my weakness , that I might learn humbly to obey.
When I ask for health, that I might do great things,
help me to embrace my infirmities, that I might do better things.
When I ask for riches, that I might be happy,
enrich me by my poverty, that I might be wise.
When I ask for power, that I might have the praise of men,
remind me of my weakness, that I might feel the need for You.
When I ask for all things, that I might enjoy life.
give me life, that I might enjoy all things.
When I get nothing that I asked for but everything I had hoped for,
may I return to You the love You gave to me through suffering.
Point for Meditation:
1. How do I receive God’s discipline in my life? With resentment? With ignorance that He is working in my life? With stoic acceptance? Or with joy that He loves me as a Father?
2. What might your heavenly Father be trying to teach you through the suffering in your life?
Resolution: I resolve to pay more careful attention to the Lord’s discipline in my life and listen carefully to what He is trying to teach me through my suffering today.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Time-out by Carl Larsson – Wikipedia entry on Child Discipline
Category: Give Us This Day