My girlfriend is doing a bible study about facing trials in your life. One portion of one of the lessons was talking about how God will discipline us when we do something wrong. It spoke about how ‘trials’ are “painful experiences God lets us go through for the purpose of shaping us”… I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking too much into this, but I think generalized ‘shot-gun’ statements like this are the major obstacle many people have with Christianity and God in general…
I’m NOT saying the statements are false! I agree with the thrust of the study, but I think, when it comes to non-christians, we don’t adequately explain what we are talking about (if we even understand it ourselves!)…
Our entire society is becoming more and more childish… even adults these days are just older children… and you can see it in our overall approach to topics like ‘discipline’… we don’t want it, we reject it, we write books about how wrong it is to discipline our children and squelch their developing personalities… we regard discipline as an evil, almost abusive practice from the dark ages, like blood-letting and the gallows… and so, when the world hears us say that God disciplines His children when they screw up, we paint this picture of a drunken step dad beating his kids with a belt for not getting the dishes clean enough… and who wants a god like that? We reject discipline because we never grew to understand the difference between discipline (correction) and punishment (inflicted pain as a consequence).
God DOES NOT punish His children. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave so that none of us would ever feel the back of Gods hand as a result of our sins! Why would God punish us for something His son died to save us from? God never punishes His children when we deserve it. This isn’t to say that there aren’t very real consequences for our sins, only that we are set free from our debt to Him. Life, however, still holds us accountable for our actions… which is where the other portion of the lesson comes in… trials.
The study said that if we are a follower of Christ we can expect to experience trials. My question was, what if someone isn’t a follower of Christ? Is their suffering different from mine? Does my suffering have purpose while theirs is just pointless and painful?
Hypothetical situation: Two former drug addicts both contract HIV, one becomes a Christian and one doesn’t. Does the suffering of one serve a God-appointed purpose while the other simply suffers? Both are experiencing the earthly consequences of their choices… yet this study would have us believe that one is experiencing the hand of God while the other His belt.
The study used the biblical figure Job to illustrate this point, that God allowed Job to suffer to shape his faith, but this is a cheat, because Jobs faith remained constant through his suffering, the purpose was to prove his faith to Satan, not shape it for Jobs sake. Others have experienced the same as Job, his story isn’t unique. The difference is that Jobs faith allowed his circumstances to bring glory to God, and I believe that is the key to the topic.
We ALL suffer in life as a result of the broken state of the world. All of us, no matter what our faith looks like or what we even believe in to begin with. We all suffer the same. We all get sick and hurt, we all get our hearts broken and plans destroyed. The difference for believers is that, through our faith, the sufferings we endure have the potential to bring glory to God, either through the work of the Spirit or simply by our faithful reaction to our circumstances.
It is up to us to decide if we see our pain as discipline or punishment. The difference is our own attitudes. We decide if we will let God work through our suffering to accomplish something in us and in the world, or if we will throw up walls and get angry about what is happening.
God isn’t punishing us, He is trying to teach us… the question is, are we getting the point? Are we growing up to see the benefit of His righteous correction or are we remaining children who slam the door and pout? Do we love our father for taking every opportunity to teach us to be Godly men and women or do we scream ‘I hate you!’ as we run from the house?