When something goes drastically wrong in our lives, we often wonder why God is punishing us. But some painful experiences are just an inevitable part of living in a fallen world. God does not cause all our hurts any more than a loving parent causes a child learning to ride a bike to take a hard spill.
But God uses painful experiences to discipline, instruct and strengthen us, and yes, sometimes to punish us for our sin.
Discipline is proof of God’s love. “And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as a son.’ Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all” (Hebrews 12:5-8).
An insecure parent is overprotective, an indifferent parent fails to discipline, but a wise, loving parent disciplines to help the child mature. Phrases like “I love you too much to let you act that way” and “This hurts me more than it hurts you” are not just clichés, they are proof of compassion.
Children may not appreciate that until they grow older, but it’s true. A Christian may not appreciate God’s discipline until he matures in the faith, but God’s discipline is indeed proof of His love for us.
Discipline is productive. “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness … it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
The toddler, humbled by a spanking, comes whimpering to the parent, begging to be cuddled. The child who conquers the bicycle takes pride in the accomplishment and is thrilled by the experience. The student usually learns more from the most demanding class.
Bob Benson once asked a group to list the five best and the five worst things that had ever happened to them. Then he asked, “Which of those 10 things would you eliminate from your past if you could?”
No one in the group would have erased even the horrible experiences of the past because those experiences had been so deepening and so instrumental in the process of spiritual maturity.
Discipline is painful. “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (Hebrews 12:10).
No child likes falling off a bike. No teen enjoys being grounded. No athlete looks forward to wind sprints. Discipline is almost always painful. The Scripture says we should consider trials “pure joy” (James 1:2), but most of us would not consider trials as joyful until the pain is gone.
Jesus was able to endure the cross because of the joy that was set before Him. (See Hebrews 12:2.) But few of us are mature enough to say, “Praise God, I’m hurting. I just love it when the Lord disciplines me!” We cry. We complain. We question, because discipline is painful.
J. Vernon McGee related that as a young boy, he once got involved with the wrong crowd at school. They were all called to the principal’s office for a mischievous deed. Since the principal was a stern disciplinarian, they anticipated a whipping with his notorious paddle. While the other boys were accustomed to being there, it was McGee’s first such discipline, and he was terrified.
One boy gave him sound advice. “When he starts striking you, don’t try to pull away. That only gives him more leverage, and it stings even more. When he hits you, move closer, and it won’t hurt nearly so much.”
McGee related that the terror of that day not only taught him to stay out of trouble in school, but he learned a valuable spiritual lesson. When God disciplines, don’t pull away from Him; draw closer to Him, and it is less painful.
“Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).
Bob Russell is retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church and founder of Bob Russell Ministries.