Many years ago, I heard one of my neighbors say that if they had been in God’s place, we humans would still be in Paradise. In this person’s analysis, God was wrong to cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden for an infraction as small as eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.
More recently, I have been hearing comments about what an awful Father God must be if He planned or permitted the crucifixion of His Son Jesus Christ. The argument is that no parent would ever allow such cruel violence to happen to their own children; if God allowed this, then God is a cruel God.
When my oldest daughter was 5 or 6 years old, I disciplined her by spanking her bottom twice with my hand. One of my relatives called me a barbarian. He could not believe that such a loving, highly educated person would discipline their children by spanking them.
As I listen to younger couples and some academic colleagues, I find that they are discussing a modified version of discipline that erases any type of physical discipline. I am also aware that in some Scandinavian countries, physical discipline can cause parents to be called before local authorities and sometimes the children are removed from their parents.
Many people who will not use physical discipline in their parenting are shocked by the idea of the crucifixion. And it is a difficult idea; the complexity of the crucifixion is stated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge: and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from agony of death because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24) Peter’s argument was that men crucified Jesus, but they could not have done anything to Jesus without the permission of God the Father.
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The same concept is presented to us in Hebrews 12 where the author is quoting from the book of Proverbs about the importance of discipline. The believers in the New Testament and Jesus himself wondered why God allowed them to suffer. We are told to “endure hardship as discipline: God is treating you as sons…God disciplines us for our own good, that we may share in his holiness. No 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 2 Corinthians 5:19 we read that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation. It means that God the Father was not a distant observer in the crucifixion, but He was suffering together with His own Son. Christ’s suffering is atoning, freeing us from our sins. Our suffering is God working in us towards holiness.
A word closely related to discipline is the word affliction. In Psalm 119:71, David writes, “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The same concept is carried by Paul in 2 Cor. 12:7-10 where he talks about those things that afflicted him. David and Paul never say that the affliction was good in itself, but affliction caused things to happen in their lives that otherwise would have not been accomplished.
As a parent one of my cardinal rules was that I never disciplined my children when I was upset with them. I only disciplined in anger once, and I apologized to my child within a couple of hours. When I did see the need to discipline my children, I never left right away. I stayed with them and told them that I loved them, but they needed to be disciplined for that specific reason.
It is true that my parents used physical discipline more often than I did. My children and many of their friends who have children have decided against it entirely. I came to the conclusion that we decide how to discipline our children by researching styles of discipline and observing our own parents and other parents who we trust. My parents and I accepted and utilized physical discipline as a means for correction and teaching our children, as long as it was done sparingly and non-violently.
God in his lovingkindness punished his Son for humanity, and he allows us to be disciplined in order to be better. If our premise is that any type of discipline is wrong, then even God’s discipline is wrong. But we are not God; we are not perfect in either love or judgment. Abraham pled for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah before conceding with these words, “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” I choose to side with Abraham in believing in the goodness of God’s justice and discipline.