Friday, March 9, 2012

On Suffering and Discipline

"We mistakenly look for tokens of God's love in happiness. We should instead look for them in his faithful and persistent work to conform us to Christ." | Jerry Bridges

There's really not a better way to say it than this; suffering and adversity are hard.  And the worst part of all seems to be the simple fact that no one is exempt from them.  While it is true that some people suffer more than others, the reality is that regardless how hard we try to avoid it, everyone will find suffering in their lifetime.

My heart has been troubled the past few days because I know that one reality regarding suffering is that it can bring some people closer to God, strengthening their faith, while for others it can push them away from him and maybe their faith altogether.

Is there a point to suffering, or is it simply the curse of the fall?  If suffering is used for ultimate good, then why, for some, does it push them away from God?  These are huge questions...ones that I'm probably not qualified to answer...but spending some time in scripture the past few days I was brought to a whole new understanding of how discipline and suffering may be closer partners than many people (including myself) want to give them credit for.

Now, before I begin...I want to be clear.  Discipline in many people's minds has a very negative connotation.  When 'discipline' and 'God' are used in the same sentence many people are drawn to the immediate word picture of the finger of God reaching down from heaven, to squish someone for something 'awful' they did.  Or, if people are a bit more logical, they may see something like a tornado or cancer...a tsunami or car accident and say God was punishing that person for some evil in their life.  This is not only an inaccurate understanding of the biblical definition of discipline but it is also dangerous.  My reason for mentioning this is that I hope, while reading this post, you'll be able to avoid either of these two understandings regarding God and discipline.

God is infinitely wise and perfectly loving.  So, by definition, nothing he does can be either unloving or unwise.  That means that even in his discipline it must be seasoned with both wisdom and love.  I'm a father to a 3-year old son.  He turns four in twenty days, and I don't think it's possible for me to be more in love or more proud of my little guy than I am right now.  Until tomorrow of course.  Each day my son Elijah teaches me more and more about what it means to love someone without conditions and he is able to warm my heart in a ways that it has never been warmed before.  Ask any of my family or friends and they'll be the first to confirm that fatherhood has taught me what it means to be affectionate, sympathetic, affirming, long-suffering and so many other things.  I owe my son a great deal of gratitude for the many life lessons he's taught me so far and he's not even four years old yet...but I digress. 

I do have a point (I think) for why I said all of this.  I love my son, and because I love him I take to heart my responsibility to raise him to fear the LORD (Proverbs 22:6).  One way I can do this is by making genuine efforts to model for my son attributes like, humility, godliness, repentance, grace, love, forgiveness and devotion to God, but another way to help my son understand the weighty-things in life is for me to discipline him in love. 

For those of you who are parents you already understand the importance of discipline.  Parents don't have to teach their children to be selfish...that comes naturally.  We don't have to teach our children how to lie, cheat, kick, scream  etc.  These are behaviors which children have a natural capacity to learn on their own.  However, through godly and wise discipline, we have the ability to teach our children lessons that will help them in this life and eternity to come.  Godly discipline is not used for any other purpose then to show our children that we love them.

I have no desire for my son to obey me out of fear.  I want him to obey me out of for me as his father and more importantly love for the God who created him.  When I discipline my son, it is not for my's for his good.  I discipline him because I want to see him learn right from wrong, good from evil and I want to see him grow closer to God and become more like Christ.  I want his life to be an echo of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know all too well that one day (LORD willing) my son will be a man, and will leave our home to make a life for himself...and if the LORD wills... he will make his own family as well.  The responsibility I bear now, as his dad, is to lay a foundation of both love and loving discipline, for his ultimate good, to be used for God's glory.

This is how discipline is defined.  Playing a role in your children's lives so they will understand things in an ultimate and eternal way.  It would be unloving for any parent not to discipline their children.  Neglecting to discipline your children can be stated more simply as neglecting your children.  Allowing them to continue in directions that you know are going to hurt them down the road is not's neglect which is quite the opposite of love. 

So, what on earth does this have to do with suffering?

Hebrews 12:5-6 says:
[5] 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. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

1. God Disciplines those whom he loves:
God in his infinite wisdom and perfect love will never "over-discipline" his children nor will he ever allow any adversity in their lives that is not ultimately for their good (Romans. 8:28). With this promise, we can be sure that we never suffer needlessly (Lamentations 3:33). 
2.  God Rejoices in Mercy, but he will use suffering if it leads to our ultimate good:

God does not delight in our sorrow (Micah 7:18) but he will not spare us that which we need to grow more and more into the likeness of his Son (Hebrews 12:5-6).  God’s first instinct is not to punish. He does so only when his patience with sinners does not lead to their repentance.
3.  There is a purpose in suffering and a Christian should be just as ready to look for God's love in suffering as they are in happiness.

For many it's easy to see God's hand in times of great blessing, but so often we ignore the reality that we have just as much (if not more) to learn in times of suffering.  Suffering and adversity are hard, make no mistakes about it.  However, there is an ultimate purpose for this discipline and keeping this in perspective is crucial when trying to remain faithful in times of trial.  Don't lose heart.  Don't fool yourself and lose your faith.  Lean on God, and the promises found in his word in these times; knowing that "suffering produces endurance, [4] and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, [5] and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5)

"When God stretches you to trust him through adversity in this life, perhaps He is enlarging your capacity for joy in Heaven." | Randy Alcorn

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