Does God Spank?
Revelations 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline…
Here is the question: Does God discipline us for behavior that He considers evil? Personally, I love the idea of a God who is full of grace and mercy. I know that in my new life, I am eternally saved and forgiven. I like to think that this forgiveness means that all strings between my behavior and consequences have therefore been cut.
Jesus insists otherwise. Apparently though I am loved and forgiven, He can still use pain to shape me. In my comfort, I have no impetus to modify my behavior. It is often only in my discomfort that I am motivated to pursue God and act differently. The depth of my motivation correlates with the depth of my misery. Change is difficult. Radical change of addictive behavior is radically difficult. It is often only in being absolutely miserable that I find the motivation to do whatever it takes to change. How many times have I said that I would do anything to change but then done nothing?
I vividly remember the sense that treatment was a giant adult time-out. I had acted as a child for years and I needed time to sit and think about what I had done. It was tremendously unpleasant but it was only in that tremendous discomfort that I finally became willing to do what it took to change my behavior.
Some will recoil against this as punishment and insist that God does not punish. I think however, that God made the world in such a way that my destructive behavior leads to predictably destructive consequences. When I cause such consequences, I am then motivated to change the cause of the destruction. Paul said as much in Galatians 6:8. The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption… It is a cosmic, unavoidable principle of the universe that when I pursue the desires of my flesh, I will experience destruction and misery.
So is all pain discipline? Are all the miseries of life a result of God smiting me for bad behavior? Are those who experience the most misery guilty of the most sin? No, of course not. I experience trials and hardships in this life of which I am not the direct cause. That however does not mean that I am not to be shaped by those hardships.
James gives me the proper perspective of pain in his explanation of trials. He says that we are to consider all trials as testing that grows our dependence on God (faith). Seen in this light, it really does not matter to me if the pain I am enduring is self-inflicted or not. I am to use all discomfort to turn me to God. The Lord disciplines those He loves and I am to endure all hardships as discipline (Hebrews 12:6,7). To me, it is not that important if I say God allowed this hardship or I caused this hardship. I am just to use the discomfort to motivate me to depend on God.
Sometimes I wander and sometimes I pursue self. If God uses the equivalent of the adult time out or spank to redirect me, then I should use that discomfort to grow my dependence on him. To me, the worst tragedy would be to endure the misery and not gain anything from it.