Sometimes when I hear or read something that sparks an interest I take notes for a possible later post. This morning I ran across some former notes on the heavy hand of God. I had heard a preacher on the radio talking on the subject and at the time it brought me up a little short. I may be splitting hairs (which I have been known to do ;-)) but is God’s hand really heavy or is it always just enough, a carefully applied correction that is never too little or too much but always just what was needed? I go for the second option.
I know that to the recipient of God’s correction, they are judging things on how it feels to them, which is internally defined, and if they require a lot of correction, then God’s hand definitely feels heavy. However, when only looking at God’s correction from this perspective, I believe it tends to foster feeling sorry for yourself, a maudlin “woe is me” attitude. If God is indeed the perfect loving Father, which by definition he is, then I believe that in each and every circumstance our heavenly Father only does the absolute minimum needed to address the situation. That may not be how we feel about the correction, but then even Christ in the garden had a struggle bearing up under the suffering he faced and I don’t believe for a moment that any of what was coming was gratuitous or unnecessary. I believe our Father treats us no differently, indeed Jesus told us to take up our own crosses and follow him, which in this context would surely mean accepting suffering required to deal with our sin and make us perfect.
It is without a doubt difficult to balance the demands of Hebrews 12 with our sense of familial entitlement. We are children of God; surely he wouldn’t treat us so harshly; after all, we are King’s kids (that surely dates me). But the passage is explicit about how intense the correction will be, even using the word “scourge”.
For whom the LORD loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives. Hebrews 12:6
Newer translations replace scourges with the softer terms like “punish” (NIV) and “chastise” (ESV). I was sorry to see that since it doesn’t bring home the true difficulty attached to our ongoing correction by God. The actual word, mastigoi, means to beat, whip, or scourge. It is the same word use in Matthew 23:34 where Jesus condemns the teachers of the law and the Pharisees for scourging (NIV flogging) in the synagogues the prophets God had sent to them. They used a three-thronged leather whip to give the prophets 39 lashes (40-1), the same punishment Paul received five times (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:24) at the hands of the Jewish leadership.
The problem is that calling God’s hand heavy can imply that he is mean and vindictive (at least the God represented in the unredacted scriptures) and indeed some would and have argued just that. The modern byword is love, love, love, not “spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. Proverbs 23:13
I strongly disagree with this reductive approach to God and his correction, instead noting that if there were an easier way to produce the same necessary results God would have done it that way. Metal must be heated and beaten into shape. Clay must be extensively manipulated and then fired in a hot kiln to produce well-made vessels. Gold and silver must be heated to the melting point to separate the dross from the pure metal. Why do we expect any less and accuse God when he is only doing what is necessary to perfect us?
Athletes have always understood that there is no real gain without enduring the commensurate pain. It is the religionists and the secularists who always can’t seem to bear the truth of the biblical message. So, buck it up Christian; buck it up.
Grace and peace to your day and may you see the loving mercy of God in each moment of his very measured correction.