The last several editorials have been capably written by Ryan Kregel, managing editor of Beacon Lights. Now it is again my turn to write them. Our regular readers will recall that prior to Ryan’s articles, I was writing a series of articles under the title of Strangers and Sojourners. In it I began to explore various aspects of our lives as we walk our pilgrim’s way toward our eternal inheritance. I now intend to take up this subject again.
One aspect of being strangers and sojourners is what the Bible calls chastisement. As Reformed, Bible-believing, Christian young people, we need to know what this means.
The reason is that we all experience it to one degree or another and in one way or another. The reason is also that to one degree or another, chastening has for us a negative connotation. It’s a problem for all of us. It is something we don’t like. And we don’t like it because it is contrary to our nature. We like our lives to go pleasantly and smoothly. Anything that goes contrary to the normal flow of our lives or is disruptive in any way is disagreeable to us.
In the grand scheme of things, some problems may be relatively minor, although they may seem at the moment to be important. Did you flunk a test in a difficult course—a test you needed to pass? Did you apply for a job, but someone else got it? Did you apply to a college but get turned down? You are certainly disappointed by such negative outcomes, but I think you will agree that they are not the end of the world.
More significantly, are you seriously ill? Have you been injured? Have you lost a loved one? Are you being seriously tempted, perhaps by alcohol, drugs, or forbidden sex? Have you had a falling out with your best friend? Are you the object of bullying and mockery, so that your life is miserable? Examples abound—insert your own into this list.
How are we to understand what we regard as these problems? To use the scriptural analogy of strangers and sojourners, these issues are speed bumps and potholes on the road of life. Our lives are sometimes difficult, or at least harder than we would like them to be. The writer to the Hebrews knows us well when he says, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous” (Heb. 12:11). We would prefer that everything in our lives be enjoyable and easy—when it is not.
Let’s keep this in perspective, however. We can do this when we remember the ultimate example of the chastisement Job. Think of what happened to this God-fearing man. In one day, under the hand and control of God, he lost everything that he had on this earth: all ten of his children, all of their houses, all of his servants, and all of his many animals (which were a measurement of wealth in those days). In addition, he lost his health, being covered with boils. His closest three alleged friends accused him of vague but serious sins that they asserted were the cause of his afflictions. All that remained to Job was his wife, and she proved to be a harridan who advised him to curse God and die. And you think you have problems?
All of this can be summarized by the term chastisement and its related terms: chastening, chastise, chasten. These words used in scripture are variously translated as correct, rebuke, and punish. Sometimes it has the idea of restraining, so that chastisement holds us back from doing something wrong. It is trouble, pain, problems, difficulty, grief, sorrow, and above all, punishment.
We are all familiar with the idea expressed by these terms. When you were a child, you received a spanking from your father for misbehaving. His intent was to reinforce his teaching and rebuke of you by causing you some pain so that you would not do again whatever it was that you did. Now that you are older, your parents likely no longer paddle your behind. Rather, they correct you by grounding you or perhaps by taking away your driving privileges.
Yet there is more to the idea of chastening than rebuke or punishment. Both the Old and New Testaments connect chastisement with training, teaching, and instruction. In fact, a number of times the same word is used for both ideas. Deuteronomy 8:5 says, “Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.” Chasten here is literally “instruct.” 1 Corinthians 11:32 reads: “But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.” The word for chastening used here means “to train” or “to instruct.” Perhaps the clearest connection between the two ideas is found in Psalm 94:12: “Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.”
Especially 1 Corinthians 11:32 gives us an insight as to the reason God chastens us. Why are we chastened (instructed)? “That we should not be condemned with the world.” The meaning is that if God does not chasten us when we stray from the narrow path on which we must walk as strangers and sojourners, we will follow the broad way on which the wicked world travels, the result of which is eternal condemnation.
Thus chastening is for our good. The Lord in his wisdom chastens us because he loves us, according to Hebrews 12:6: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” As we walk our pilgrim path, he does not want us to deviate from it, but to remain on it: stay, not stray. This means that our being chastened is not an accident, but is the working and guidance of God’s providence. Very practically this also means that if the Lord does not chasten us, this is a sign that we are like the wicked world, whom he does not chasten. Then we are truly in spiritual trouble. Conversely, that God chastens us is proof to us that we are his children, for he chastens only those whom he loves.
It is worth noting here the difference between chastisement and punishment. They are not the same. The means that God uses for both punishment and chastisement may be the same, but in each case his attitude and purpose are different. God’s attitude in chastening is his love: he uses adversity out of his love and out of the motive of strengthening our faith. His purpose is teaching us to walk on the path of righteousness, and his purpose is our salvation. The word chastisement (instruction) is and may be properly used concerning his people. In contrast, God’s punishment is rooted in his hatred of sin and of evildoers. His purpose is to put them on the slippery slope that leads to eternal destruction (Ps. 73).
This distinction implies the truth of the antithesis. By means of chastisement God shows his love toward his people in keeping them on the narrow path that leads through the gate that opens into eternal life. On the contrary, by means of punishment, in his hatred he sends the wicked through the wide gate that leads to destruction.
What must be our attitude toward God’s instruction of us?
According to our sinful natures, our instant and automatic response to chastening is rebellion and resentment. The first thing we do is to have a pity party. It is so easy to ask, “Why me? What did I do to deserve my problems and afflictions?
This may not be our reaction. Rather, our reaction must be the same as God’s. And God’s reply to this rebellious questioning is, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Stronger still are God’s words in Proverbs 3:11 and Job 5:17, both of which are quoted in Hebrews 12:5: “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him.” With this answer we must rest, whether or not we understand God’s way with us.
This does not mean, however, that we may not ask God to take away our chastisement. In both Psalm 6:1 and Psalm 38:1 we read the identical words: “O Lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath; neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.” The psalmist can say this because he has the assurance that by way of promise Christ has taken away God’s hot displeasure with us because of our sins. On the basis of his example we may ask God to remove our chastisement if it is his will to do so. But if this is not his will, we may be assured that he will give us the grace necessary to receive and endure his instruction.
In conclusion, when we pray to God for the removal of his chastisement, we must bear in mind what Professor Herman Hanko writes in When You Pray: “ Although we must always be careful in our prayers to pray according to the will of God. carefulness is especially necessary when the Lord chastises us. It is possible, when chastised, to be resentful and rebellious, unwilling to submit to God’s will, determined to escape his chastening hand in whatsoever way we are able. At least our first reaction to chastisement is almost always such rebellion. And it is a temptation against which we fight as long as God is not pleased to remove his chastening hand” (93).