(4 of 9 in a series on “Why do bad things happen to good people?”)
When the author of the book of Hebrews lays out the reasoning behind God’s training program for us, it is designed to help us not “lose heart”. But, at least in the Hebrews passage, our response to the pain that comes with it is not clearly explained. But reasoning through the analogy with our earthly father’s discipline gives us some insights that I think are largely ignored in our understanding of suffering.
God’s overarching attribute in His dealings with His children in the present age is love. Put simply, the New Testament description of God is, “God is love.” Even God’s discipline is motivated by His love, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Heb 12:6). And of course Jesus, who exemplified love in word and deed, is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). When we see Jesus, we see the flesh and blood representation of the Father. Simply stated, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15).
The upshot of this is that the discipline of God should always be understood through His love and the character of His Son, Jesus. Because of this, we know that His discipline will never be capricious, never be random, never be mean, never be beyond understanding. Why? Think about our analogy in Hebrews 12. Every good father disciplines with the goal clearly explained to the child. In fact, before we discipline or correct our youngsters, we go out of our way to make sure they understand what behavior is expected. We go out of our way to make sure they understand why they are being disciplined. We make clear to the child what they did wrong. They know what behavior needs to change. A good parent never disciplines in a random, unexpected, surprising, or capricious manner. And we would not expect our heavenly Father to do so either.
So when we experience suffering or setbacks that don’t make sense, our response is not limited to a Job-like resignation that “God’s ways are higher than ours” and we will never know the why. No, I think God disciplines us in ways that we can know what is going on and I will explain next time.