Someone asked anonymously after a recent post whether God punishes us.
I think she was prompted to ask because I said about my selfish thoughts,
"But does that mean God rejects me and punishes me for it? Absolutely not!"
My anonymous friend asked, "I do have a question: I have felt like I was being punished by God and I have been believing it was from God? If it wasn't God punishing me then what was I feeling? "
My answer would have to be, it's possible that it was God's punishment, but it would depend on the situation. It probably *is* His discipline. There's a difference, though we often don't see it that way.
The Bible tells us that God disciplines His dear children. Hebrews 12 says:
5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.[a] 7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
In the King James version, the word translated discipline is translated as chastening. We often think of discipline as a parent punishing a child in anger but what does discipline or chastening actually mean?
The greek word in this passage is paideia, from which we get our word pedagogy - teaching - training. We can think of discipline as the making of a disciple. We can think of chastening as making one chaste or holy. Sometimes this teaching or training may take the form of punishment, but that is only one type of discipline and only needed in certain cases. Discipline or chastening are much broader terms. Much more often it is in the form of instruction, encouragement, and direction.
Even in the correction category, there can be a variety of ways this can be shown. As you probably know from your own parenting, different situations and different relationships with our children call for different types of correction. A child who is sitting in your lap and in close relationship with you will likely only need a look or a touch of loving encouragement. He can be disciplined into doing the right thing *before* he actually gets to the point of sinning. (This is the kind of correction I was talking about when I said God held me close while I struggled with my desire to have my own way and why I said He was not punishing or rejecting me.)
A child who is far away from you in heart may need much firmer discipline. A child who is away from you physically has the opportunity to get himself deeper into sin and then the discipline process is more likely to need things like groundings or other forms of punishment. I think it's the same with our relationship with God. The farther one draws away from God, the more likely He may have to give His child a "bop on the head" to get through to them.
Discipline in our language is from the greek word discipulus meaning pupil or disciple. This can be separated from the greek kólasis meaning penal infliction, punishment, and retribution. Paideía and discipulus show more correction, educative discipline.
So then we think of the educative discipline that is teaching a lesson rather than addressing a wrong. For instance, I am disciplined in the art of violin playing, or one can talk about disciplines of science or philosophy. One can be disciplined to run a marathon. Sometimes even these disciplines *hurt*. I think of the sore muscles as one trains to run a marathon or the sore neck and fingers as one practices the violin. I have seen violin players who are actually bleeding from the discipline of playing a lot. These are the chastening processes in which God makes us chaste, holy, purified. When one considers that the purification process for gold or silver includes being put into fire, it's not surprising that pain is involved even though I don't think this kind of purification is done as punishment for specific sin. It does not mean we are out of fellowship with Him. Most of the time it's those who are in deepest fellowship with Him that we see going through those firey times, because God is purifying them and making them more and more like Him.
So if you are His dear child and you are going through difficult times, I would say look around you at your relationship with Him to be able to see whether He is giving you a good bop or if He is purifying you in the fire. And know that either way, He is showing His incredibly wonderful love for you in and through it all!
Which brings us to the question of "do or allow?" When we go through terrible things does that mean God *causes* them in our life or does He *allow* them to happen and it's actually satan, sin, or other people who do them to us? If we lose our home in a fire, did God cause the fire or did He allow a fire that someone else started to burn our home? It is sometimes difficult to think that a truly loving God would cause us pain, and I have found that using the words "do", "cause", or "bring" can make it seem to others that I think God is a judging, punitive God who would destroy a home or kill a child to teach us a lesson. And of course, of course, He is NOT like that.
A few weeks ago my four year old disobeyed and went into the lower level of the barn. While she was there she fell down and cut her finger on who knows what. The cut was not deep and it was washed well, but considering there was the distinct possibility it might have been something rusty, and considering the surety that it was in an area contaminated by animal manure, I felt it would be a good idea to get her into the doctor for a tetanus shot. It was a reminder to me also that I'd been planning to get all the children caught up on their tetanus shots and hadn't done so yet. So I took Amanda over to the clinic and the doctor gave her a shot in the leg.
Now Amanda could look at this situation and say, "I disobeyed and this was my punishment." but that wouldn't be exactly true.
She could say, "That mean old doctor lady hurt me." wouldn't be exactly right either and could lead her heart in the direction of feeling anger and bitterness toward the doctor.
Or she could say, "Mommy took me to the doctor and caused the doctor to give me a shot. Mommy brought this pain to me, but I know without a doubt that Mommy loves me, so this pain must be good somehow."
She doesn't understand what tetanus is. She doesn't understand how a shot that hurts so much can be helpful to her, but she does understand that Mommy loves her very very much, and Mommy would never "cause" or "allow" (however you want to put it) this pain in her life unless it was for a *good* reason.
I find that for me, even if God uses the actions of satan or other people to bring painful times into my life, it helps me to see it as *God's* doing. Then I can direct my heart to God's loving purpose in it rather than getting hung up on what *that person did to me*. This leaves me able to forgive completely and love that person with God's love through me. And this doesn't mean that I am then angry with God. How could I ever be angry with One who loves me SO MUCH!
Even though Job was tempted by satan, he saw God's hand in it all. "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." And I think it was also Job who said, "Though You slay me, yet will I hope in Thee." Even Job's wife saw it as God's doing, though she didn't see it through the eyes of a *loving* God when she told Job to "curse God and die." So I think there is Biblical precedence for seeing our difficult times as coming from God, at least in a sense. But whether you use the words do or allow, the point is that God loves you very very very much and He uses the situations in our lives to teach, to discipline, and to chasten us as His dear children.