I grew up in a time when most parents spanked their kids. Some of the spankings my dad gave me probably would be labeled as physical abuse today. A strict disciplinarian in many ways, Dad demanded the same behavior from us all. It worked on me. It didn't work on everyone in our family.
Dad thought he was dong the right thing. His methods seemed harsh then; now that I'm grown they still do. I wish he had been a kinder, more gentle soul. Sometimes I felt his beatings were more to vent his own rage than they were to correct me.
Although I don't agree with my father's methods, I must conclude that, whether we like it or not, we need discipline. All of us do, and we need other authority figures besides parents to teach right and wrong and enforce these views. We need neighbors and teachers to nod approval or shake their heads when we go contrary to commonly accepted values.
If we grasp this need, we can understand God the Holy Chastiser. How we view this aspect of God depends, I suppose, on our childhood. My tendency in the beginning of my Christian experience was to see God as the Big Whipper, who pounced on me for the slightest infraction. As I learned more about God, I began to see the kinder side.
Still, the Holy Chastiser has been part of my growing experience. When God disciplines me, I can resent it (and I have!); I can rebel (guilty again!); or I can say, "Thanks, God, I needed that" (I'm learning).
In Hebrews chapter twelve, the writer brings out the concept of the Divine Discipliner by using human examples. His readers were those undergoing persecution and hardship, and (surprise!) they didn't like it. He writes: "So keep your mind on Jesus, who put up with many insults from sinners. Then you won't get discouraged and give up. None of you have yet been hurt in your battle against sin. But you have forgotten what the Scriptures say to God's children, 'When the LORD punishes you, don't make light of it, and when he corrects you, don't be discouraged. The LORD corrects the people he loves and disciplines those he calls his own.' Be patient when you are being corrected" (Heb 12:3-6, CEV)!
There we have it. God corrects us for our good In theory, we know that true disciplining is an act of love. Hebrews says children learn by correction, even if the parents are imperfect in their knowledge and wisdom.
I'm a parent and I've been a child, so I can view this from two perspectives. When I functioned at my best, I disciplined my children because I had the maturity to see the consequences of their actions. I recall the time when my then-three-year-old daughter C-C and I stayed overnight with some friends. When we got into the car the next morning, I realized that she had taken a banana. "Did you ask for that?"
She shook her head.
"Honey, that was wrong. We call that sin when we do things we know are wrong." I took C-C back inside and explained.
"Why that's horrible," the wife said. "You can't call a young child a sinner. She doesn't know what it means."
"She's learning," I said, not wanting to make a major crime out of her action. But she had stolen, and as her father, I wanted her to be aware of her actions and the consequences of her deed.
Looking back, I may have induced more guilt than my children needed, and sometimes I acted arbitrarily. I may have become too concerned over trivial things and ignored weightier issues. My only response is that I acted with the best wisdom I had.
That's what separates our ways from God's. We're not perfect. As children, we may resent the actions or inconsistencies of our parents. Yet once we become parents, we understand a little more of God's discipline in our lives.
The Divine Discipliner nudges, urges, and even punishes us--whatever it takes--to move us along the road of obedience. "We know God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children" (Rom 8:28-29, CEV). That's God's ultimate purpose at work in us.
Yet when God slaps my fingers, I usually don't see that as part of the divine plan for my life. Sometimes I don't think I did anything wrong and can't see the long-term effects of God's actions or purpose.
One of the things I've learned about the Divine Discipliner came when I overheard a father and his little boy when they visited us. The child wanted his father to do something for him and his dad said no. The son demanded loudly. The father got down on his haunches until he was at eye level. "I love you, Robbie. That's why I said no." He put one arm around the boy and held him while he used his other arm to take out his handkerchief and wipe away the child's tears.
That was one of the best examples of parenting I've ever seen. Maybe the verses in Hebrews chapter twelve are meant to say essentially the same thing to us. "I'm doing this because I love you," God is saying. "Even if you don't understand or don't agree, please trust me that it's for your good."
I'm getting the message, but then I wonder how I should pray to the Divine Discipliner. I'm not crazy enough to ask for God to make things tough for me. Yet I do want to be as much like Jesus Christ as it's possible for me to become.
That means accepting holy correction when it comes. In my praying to the Divine Discipliner, I've asked, "God, make me everything you want me to be and do whatever it takes to make me conform." I ask the Divine Discipliner to show me how to make the right decisions, to do the things that honor God and lead to having God's ultimate purpose fulfilled in me.
On occasion, I've felt like the boy whose parent has just denied him something he's wanted badly. It hurts-really hurts-to face disappointments, to work hard and have it fall apart, to throw myself into something and have a coworker get the promotion or credit instead of me.
I have to remind myself that God's arm is around my shoulder, that the Loving Discipliner is wiping away my tears. In those moments of pain and self-pity, I keep reminding myself, God loves me. God is doing this to make me more like Jesus.
That doesn't take away the pain, but it does help me realize that God truly cares. It gives me a spiritual boost when I think that God slapped my wrist out of love. God's discipline in my life assures me that God has accepted me and won't allow me to settle for less than the divine, ultimate plan for my life.
At times, I've resisted, like Peter did at the Last Supper when Jesus wanted to wash his feet. He refused, but Jesus told him that if he didn't submit he wouldn't have any part of him. So Peter said, "Then don't stop with just my feet. Wash my whole body."
That's what I pray for - total discipline by the divine hand. I still don't like it; it hurts when God tells me no. Yet I choose to rejoice every time the Divine Discipliner works in me.
Discipline me, O God, discipline me.
Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is. It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace. --HEBREWS 12:10-11, CEV
My child, don't turn away or become bitter when the LORD corrects you. The LORD corrects everyone he loves, just as parents correct their favorite child. --PROVERBS 3:11-12, CEV
when you punish me
I moan and wail,
I question your love and your actions.
and help me understand you are manifesting
your parental love for me.
Remind me of that again and again
until the time comes when I can say in the
midst of disappointments,
"Thanks, God, for loving me enough to stop me." Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.