Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Fathering of God, Part 4

The Lord’s discipline of his children is a gift even if it is painful to endure. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is a realist and thus is helpful for us I think. Even as he exhorts his readers he also exhibits empathy for them. Let us listen to this divine word!

Certainly the Fathers’ discipline is experienced by us as unpleasant at the time we undergo it (Hebrews 12:11)! In fact, is it very unpleasant and even deeply painful to the point of taxing us to all our known limits! But this is because we are so disordered in our minds and our habits that God’s decisive interventions in our lives, even though they are designed for our good, are perceived as negative and painful. The problem lies in our perception of reality and of ourselves and of God. 

This is why the promise stated in the text is so important to understand and remember. If we submit to the Father of spirits in faith we will later see that this act of sheer obedience yielded a great harvest spiritually—for one’s own soul and great good works which bless others. Whether or not what you or I endure is the direct consequence of our actions (thus natural consequence for our sins in this life) or simply part of the hardships in life that all people must face the council of the writer is the same: Perceive it as an occasion through which you are undergoing Divine instruction and correction. Learn all that God intends to teach you through it—do not waste any of it by resisting God in that. 

Please understand my point here: Nowhere in Scripture does God say that misery, suffering, death and oppression are good. No they are evil and part of our human situation whether any of us like it or not. The perspective the writer, and generally of biblical writers, is that God can bring good out of evil; turn what was intended for destruction and bring life out of it; turn a hopeless situation into a spring of living water for the soul; strengthen his own beloved people so they can endure hardship for the sake of the Gospel and testify to its truth. And if you want confirmation of this look at the Lord Jesus (see Hebrews 12:1-4). 

Some years ago when I was in high school I had to have knee surgery on both my knees. I was in a lot of pain even while simply walking and bending down. The surgery was necessary to relieve the problems with shredded cartilage under my knee caps. Once it was done I was given specific exercises which, if I did them consistently and properly, would strengthen the muscles in my legs. These were also needed in order to allow me to get back to as much normal movement and activity as possible. 

The writer of Hebrews uses a very similar analogy to conclude his exhortation (vv.12-13). This exhortation acts like a bookend in that it complements the exhortation at the beginning of the chapter. Namely, that we are to somehow strengthen ourselves and overcome weakness of soul by learning to fully submit to God and to his discipline. Literally, to “put right” or “make right” so that hands and knees function normally again (or perhaps the first time?!) This is a spiritual metaphor. 

We do this by learning to obey his written Word as best as we understand it. And then, like the Lord himself, learn to hear God’s voice and do the ministry of the Kingdom. We exercise faith in all the diverse concrete situations we find ourselves in—in husband/wife relationships, family life together, in our workplaces, in our community at church. We need each other to help to put things right so we may “be healed.” (v.13) 

We are weaker than we know and we need healing to become strong in the Lord and to serve him in this world as God intends for us. For our enemy wields mighty weapons that many of us are not aware of; but God knows and has provided a provision for us. That God is our Father is essential to being strong in light of the enemies’ work. That we have been given to one another for mutual help must not be forgotten! 

I suggest that this is the core of the enemies’ work: To foster the spirit of inferiority and insecurity in us. This two-prong weapon is extremely effective in taking down the most talented and most accomplished of persons. The first targets the defensive weapons of the human soul (sense of belonging and essential value in God) while the second targets the engine of the soul (a profound confidence in God that comes from faith).

If one stops to consider the view of our spiritual enemy it makes sense: Take down the human person at these most basic levels of self-understanding by inducing the conviction that one is inferior and insecure. How often the enemy uses one friends, family, co-workers to pound this lie home till one has internalized it. But God’s fathering corrects the lie of the enemy with the truth of who we are in our Lord Jesus. God as our Father answers these as he becomes for us, through the indwelling Spirit, all we need. As the psalmist said, “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10, NRSV)

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