This week’s second reading from the Book of Hebrews can be a hard one to swallow:
Brothers and sisters, You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: ‘My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.’ Endure your trials as ‘discipline'; God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7).
We don’t like to think of God as disciplining us. The image of God that is most popular today is one of love, but not a parental love. Rather, it is more of a friendship sort of love. God will stick with you no matter what. God will walk with you and have your back and make sure that nothing bad happens to you. God will look the other way when you sin. In the long run, it won’t matter. God will always be there.
It is definitely true that God is always with us. He doesn’t abandon us. We are the ones that turn away from him when we sin. However, as this passage tells us, God’s love is not merely that of friend. It is parental, and as all parents can attest to, this involves not always being your child’s favorite person. It means that sometimes (most of the time) you have to be the one who lays down the law and makes sure it is followed. It means caring more about how your children are developing as moral, socially-responsible people than whether or not they like you at the moment. It means taking away privileges and enforcing time-outs (later known as groundings.) It means taking away car keys and making curfews, and saying “No, you cannot do that” and holding your ground even when you are told repeatedly, “But Mom, everyone else is doing it.” It means teaching hard lessons and sometimes inflicting punishments that hurt you every bit as much (if not more) than they hurt your child. It means watching your child cry and knowing it is for his own good even as it breaks your heart. And we are only human parents with human parental love! Imagine what this must be like for God.
God doesn’t want to punish us any more than we want to punish our children. He doesn’t do it to be mean or to exert His incredible power. But, sometimes, we force His hand. We make some bad choices and He lets us suffer the consequences of our actions. He wants us to learn a lesson and correct our lives for the benefit of our eternal souls. Sometimes, we can be quite stubborn and it takes a great deal of correction for us to get the message. But, it is always for our eternal good.
God does love us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t want us to suffer. Our suffering is a result of sin, both the general sin in the world, and our own personal sin. Like the parent who must discipline as part of bringing up a child, God has our best interests at heart. He wants us to learn and make progress on our spiritual journey. When we are being disciplined by God, it is a sign of His love. It means He hasn’t given up on us. For that, we should be incredibly thankful.