Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Discipline of the Lord ~ Hebrews 12

Gentle discipline is more than just not spanking.  It is a whole mindset, a lifestyle.  But when we have grown up with punitive parenting, it tends to influence the way we see everything, including the Bible.  Most Christians in the US take it for granted that the Bible commands us to spank our kids, even though the only verses that would seem to back that up are Proverbs, which are proverbs--wise sayings--not part of the law.  A closer examination of the original language makes it clear that those verses have nothing in common with "spanking the right way", but if your mind has become accustomed to seeing punishment and wrath in God's actions towards His people, that becomes the lens through which the entire Bible is read.
opened Sefer Torah
Image credit: Alexander Smolianitski on Flickr

Hebrews 12 is often quoted as a New Testament passage that condones punishment (beating even, according to some).  As nearly as I can tell, it all goes back to the KJV.  Apparently, the translators after the King James Version actually added in the word "scourges" to the Septuagint.  It doesn't appear in earlier manuscripts, and in Aramaic it reads simply that God disciplines us.  I agree wholeheartedly that God does discipline His children. 

Let's take a closer look at the whole passage:
"Consequently, we also, since we're surrounded by such a big cloud of witnesses, must get rid of every arrow tip and the sin which easily stands around us.  We  must run the race that surrounds us by using endurance.  We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the originator and completer of our faith.  Instead of the happiness set in front of him, he chose to undergo the cross, thinking nothing of the shame.  He has taken his seat at the right side of God's throne.  So think about Jesus who underwent such opposition from sinners so that you won't become worn down and fall apart in your lives.  You haven't come to the point of bloodshed yet in opposing sin, fighting against it.  And have you completely forgotten the encouragement which addresses you as his children:  "My child, don't make light of the Lord's education.  Don't fall apart when you are put under scrutiny by him.  Because the Lord educates the one he loves and he uses the rod on everyone he welcomes as a child."
Because you undergo education, God treats you like his children--what child is there that a parent doesn't educate?  But if you go without education--which everyone is a business partner with!--then you're illegitimate and you're not children!  Then again we have human parents who educate us and we listen to them.  Surely we should follow the Father of our spirits and live!  For on the one hand our parents educated us for a short time in the best way they could, but on the other hand he educates us for our benefit, so that we can share in his holiness.  Now on the one hand education doesn't seem like much fun at the time, as it's painful!  However, later on it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness by those who have been trained in it!" ~ Hebrews 12:1-11 The Source New Testament

This passage isn't about punishment!  It is meant to encourage believers, not scold them.  I love that discipline is translated correctly here as education--teaching.  Not punishment.  The notes for verse 2 make clear that the word elegkho "to put under scrutiny" is very different in meaning from peirazo, which would mean to "put to the test (by an enemy/with hostile intent)".  Read the whole context there.  This passage is not a warning that God will hurt you if you mess up.  It is encouragement that even the difficult things in our lives can be used by God to teach us and train us.  That is true discipline. This also fits with the Hebrews 5:8.  The discipline that Jesus received was not about punishment, but about listening to His Father and encouragement in suffering. (And the reference to the rod in verse 6 would have been understood by the Hebrews as referring to guidance and discipline, and the constant presence of God in our lives--truly something where we can joyfully say, "Your rod and staff comfort me!").   

God certainly disciplines His children.  That does not mean that He hurts us so that we will modify our behavior.  It means that He teaches us.  And He redeems everything.  Even the ugly, even the painful, even the parts that bring suffering (whether caused by our own choices or simply because we live in a fallen world).  We are living Nazca lines, and He is encouraging us that no matter how evil something appears to be, that if we submit to Him and listen to His song over us, it can be transformed for our good and for His glory. 


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dulce. This passage has come up several times lately, and I've been looking for a good post to direct people to. This sums it up, beautifully :-)

Melkmeid said...

True Discipline can not be taken too far or become harmful. Just like Grace or Love can not be taken too far or cause damage.

Discipline has to due with love and relationship. If it needs rules, then it isn't about love and isn't true discipline!


Anonymous said...

Just wondering why it says towards the end of the passage that all discpline (or education as your translation reads) is painful? If, as you say, God does not intend to discipline/punish (meaning bring any sort of hurt into our lives) then why would there be any mention of pain?

dulce de leche said...

Anon, when an athlete trains, it is often painful. Choosing the discipline of running or working out isn't comfortable, but it is worthwhile. It also is not a punishment--the intent is not to make you feel bad so that you will change your behavior. God's discipline isn't to make us feel bad and change our behavior, it is to help strengthen us and help us to focus on running the race that is set before us.