“I think God is punishing me!” That was the statement flung out by an exasperated woman at a Bible study I attended years ago. Before you could say “poor darlin’,” most of the class had the woman enveloped in a group hug, assuring her that God would do no such thing. He wasn’t in the business of making His children miserable. Ever.
I didn’t think that was quite right based on an unforgettable woodshed experience of my own with God. But I knew experience wasn’t authoritative and I couldn’t quote my position chapter and verse. Besides, all of the women were older than I and very confident in their assertions. It’s a great risk to challenge such a group when you don’t have it all nailed down. And would the woman who was the focus of attention think I was cruel for objecting to her comforters? So I kept quiet.
Years later, I still think about that scene and my hesitation to speak up. And I know there are women who still wonder if God is punishing them. But now, when the subject comes up, I’m ready to respond with a decisive “Maybe.”
Hebrews 12: 5b-8 says:
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Anyone trying to market a soft religion with a casual deity would leave this passage out. It’s unambiguous. God disciplines His children. He also chastises. To be chastised by God doesn’t mean he wags His finger at you when you willfully sin. It means (actually, in the Greek) He flogs you; beats you bloody. The point being: it’s dreadfully painful. It gets worse. There’s no escaping it. Because if you are left without such treatment, the passage says you have much bigger problems than you thought. You’re not His.
Theologically speaking, punishment and discipline are not the same things. Punishment is a punitive measure for those who remain under God’s wrath. Discipline is a process intended to revive a believer. It’s a very important distinction. But it’s fair to say God’s discipline may feel indistinguishable from brutal punishment to the one undergoing it. It hurts. His intention is to root out our sin and make us holy, just as some medical treatments are dreadful to endure though meant to root out disease and restore physical health. God knows how much “medicine” we need.
The assurance of chastisement doesn’t mean we can say with certainty what’s happening, at any given time, in the life of another. We need to tenderly ask the question: Is there anything in your life God should be “punishing” you for? There just might be.
When a sister expresses misery and points her finger at God, we don’t help her by patting her back and dismissing her instinct while defaming God in the process as a casual bystander instead of competent Father. What’s called for is a time of self-examination. It’s time to challenge her to measure her life against God’s revealed will and word. Maybe, like Job, she knows of no area of obvious rebellion. In that case, all she need do is plead for grace to submit to the Father’s providence and for strength to persevere. But if there is sin she can identify as a cause for discipline, she must add repentance to her prayer for grace and strength.
God’s discipline is purposeful. He’s asked us to take it seriously and be attentive. If we derail self-examination with hasty comfort, we delay the sweet benefit on the other side of it.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11)
Discipline produces sanctification. Mature believing women must encourage one another to reflect and repent if we are to be refined. We must offer one another truthful counsel and compassion for brokenness. Because one day, we all must be on the receiving end of discipline.