A Father And His Children

[This article was taken from our book Don’t Blame God! A Biblical Answer to the Problem of Evil, Sin, and Suffering.]

 

How does a godly father deal with his children? Loving each one with the same degree of fervent love, he recognizes their differences in age, ability and experience. First he instructs each child as to how to do a certain thing. Then he tests him by asking him to do it. If the child disobeys or does it wrong, he corrects him. When the child gets it right, the father rewards him appropriately and in light of the “big picture” of the whole family. This process is known as “discipline,” and it is exactly how God our Father works with us.

You can see that the word “disciple” is closely related to the word “discipline.” Many people today have an unnecessarily negative connotation of “discipline,” perhaps because their fathers abused them and called it “discipline.” In Scripture, the Greek word translated “disciple” means “a learner; one who follows both the teacher and the teaching.” [1] Does genuine parental discipline include breaking a kid’s arm when he reaches rudely across the dinner table for the last brownie? Of course not. Such extreme and unwarranted cruelty would today be called “child abuse,” and biblically it could be classified as “provoking children to wrath.” Ephesians 6:4 tells parents not to do this, but on the contrary to “bring them up in the nurture [paideia] and admonition of the Lord.”

In any language, some words change in meaning over the years, and usually they acquire a more negative connotation. Today the English word “chastening” leaves a bad taste in most people’s mouths, but consider this fabulous definition from the 1841 Webster’s Dictionary: “guidance by kind correction to prevent repetition of faults and reclaim the offender.” That is exactly how God, our wonderful Father, works with us as His children. Never is His “chastening” via sickness, affliction or tragedy.

In essence, we are talking about the difference between punishment and discipline. Punishment focuses on past mistakes, while discipline focuses on correct future behavior. It is very important to correctly understand “the chastening of the Lord.” If one believes that the chastening of the Lord means that God causes suffering in his life, then, as has already been stated, his trust (faith) in God’s love and help in times of trouble is undermined. We have seen that paideia (“chastening”) means training and instruction, and this is clearly set forth in a number of verses.

For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16, it says that the Scriptures are given for “instruction” [paideia] in righteousness.” Acts 7:22 says Moses “was learned [paideuo] in all the wisdom of Egypt.” Acts 22:3 says Paul was “taught [paideuo] according to the perfect manner of the law.” 2 Timothy 2:25 says God’s servants are to “instruct” (paideuo) those that oppose.

It is unfortunate, and it has actually helped the Devil’s cause, that paideia and paideuo are so often translated as “chastening.” No loving earthly father would cause his children the horrible suffering experienced by so many people today. To say that God’s “training and instruction” (His paideia) is blindness, cancer, car wrecks, Alzheimers, AIDS, starvation, etc., is a slap in the face to God, who over and over in His Word has said that these things are the results of the corrupting influence of sin.

The point is clear: The Devil wants people to believe that God causes pain and suffering, so that he can destroy their love for and faith (trust) in God. The unfortunate translation of paideia as “chastening” helps paint that picture. God, meanwhile, actually says that He “educates and instructs” His children as any loving father would do — by challenging, testing, encouraging and reproving them in a loving way with the child’s best interests in mind.

In regard to the “chastening” of the Lord, it is appropriate at this point to remind the reader of the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Judges 2:20-22
(20) Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me,
(21) I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.
(22) I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.”

Here we see another example of the figure Prophetic Metonymy. God did not literally “use” Gentiles against Israel, but rather foretold that Gentiles would be a test to Israel. Numerous Old Testament verses seem to indicate that God “used” other nations to afflict Israel in order to teach them to obey Him. Such circumstantial “discipline” was not, however, God literally empowering these pagan nations against His people. It was due to Israel’s failure to obey God, and their subsequent vulnerability to others who were actually inspired by Satan.

What are some New Testament examples of “the chastening of the Lord”? In Matthew 16:23, Jesus sternly rebuked Peter: “Get thee behind me, Satan!” In Acts 10:15, God gently corrected Peter. In Acts 16:6 and 7, God, by revelation, said “No” to Paul and his pals. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul by God’s direction heartily reproved his Christian brother Peter. As one radio Bible teacher once said, “God’s ‘No’s’ are part of His ‘Yes!’” In other words, sometimes when we ask God for something, He says “No,” because He knows what we have asked for is not best for us at that time. God can certainly “close doors” as well as open them for us, but He does not slam them on our fingers!

An important point to note in these records is that in each of the above cases, those “chastened” responded by correcting their attitude and behavior. In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira could have responded in the same way. Instead, they did not repent of their sin and were apparently overcome with terror and dropped dead. In any case, the Bible does not say that God killed them, because He did not. If God killed every believer who was financially dishonest, we daresay the ranks of the Church would be considerably thinned.

There are many other biblical accounts where those whom God corrected did not respond accordingly. For example, King Saul did not change when he was reproved by Samuel for his disobedience (1 Sam. 15), and both Saul and his subjects suffered much due to his hardness of heart. 2 Chronicles 16 records that King Asa of Judah became so enraged at the reproof delivered by a prophet that he put the prophet in jail and brutally oppressed some of his own subjects. Later on, when Asa was sick, he would not ask God for healing.

Endnotes

[1] E.W. Bullinger, Lexicon, page 146.

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