(3 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)
In Hebrews chapter 12 we are introduced to God’s training program for His children. The author begins the chapter with the example of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Jesus endured incredible pain to accomplish what God set out for Him to do. In verse 3, the focus shifts from Jesus, our example in suffering, to us, God’s children. “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:3). The author then goes on to explain God’s training program in verse 5 and following as an encouragement to not “lose heart”.
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline [training program] of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:5-7). God’s training program for His children flows from His love for us and is as natural and expected as being trained by our earthly fathers.
“But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we much not rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Heb 12:8-10). If we are true children of God, we will all experience His training regimen. Just as we respected our fathers who disciplined us for earthly goals, should we not more so worship and respect our heavenly Father who disciplines us for “our good and to share in His holiness”? Our good and our holiness is the desired outcome of the training program of God.
And just as Christ “endured the cross for the joy set before Him”, so we too will experience the pain of discipline on our way to the joy and peace of righteousness that it produces. “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11). The goal of God’s training program is not only our good and our holiness, but also joy and a peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Now the beauty of this journey and what may set this apart from what you have heard in the past about God’s discipline is that God’s training program does not take place in a mysterious and unknown vacuum. I think we teach and accept too often the idea that God somehow wants to keep us in the dark regarding the pain we go through. Does this fit the character and actions of the God we see in the New Testament, especially as revealed in Jesus, His Son? We will explore this next time.