For the week of December 12, 1998 / 23 Kislev 5759
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6-3:8

God's Discipline

You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you for all your sins (Amos 3:2).

I recently disciplined one of my children by removing a particular privilege. I, like most parents, do not enjoy disciplining my children, but I felt it was necessary in order for the lesson to be learned. In fact in many societies today, parents don't discipline or punish their children at all, because they feel it causes more harm than good.

I don't agree. People, not just children, have a tendency to engage in activities that are destructive - destructive to self and to others. It would be nice if a simple education of the difference of right and wrong was sufficient to keep ourselves from harm and from harming others. But we don't work that way.

We learn through a variety of ways. Sometimes words are sufficient, but often not. We have heard of "The School of Hard Knocks" - the difficult circumstances of life that teach us lessons we don't learn any other way. When a parent disciplines a child, we are making life difficult for the child. The experience of discipline seeks to simulate for the child the consequences of a given action, word or attitude. The parent hopes that by providing this consequence the child will develop the will to avoid similar things in the future.

The parent, who is older and (hopefully) wiser, sees that if the child's behavior is left unchecked, there will be much greater trouble in store in the future.

It is love on the part of parents that helps us do the difficult task of discipline, because the parent can see beyond the immediate moment.

We tend to better understand this principle in the medical realm. It is amazing how much discomfort we are willing to endure in order to find eventual relief from sickness or injury. We will submit ourselves to medical tests, surgery, and medication, believing that the short-term discomfort will result in long-term relief.

Discipline is no different - and not just for children. God disciplines us too:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons (Hebrews 12:7,8).

God brings (or allows) hardship into our lives to produce positive change.

In the Amos passage above we see that the reason why God is punishing the people of Israel is because of his special relationship with them. They were engaged in activities that were going to have long-term, negative consequences. Because God loved them so much, he punished them.

What kind of madman, knowing that his children were heading for great danger, would just try to make them feel good along the way? And yet this is often what we want from God. We want to hear that we are OK. We want everyone to approve of everything we do. But this is not love.

God does whatever it takes to lead us in the right way, just like any loving parent.

And so no matter how harsh disciple may seem, when it comes from a loving parent or a loving God, it for our good.

After I disciplined my child, I expressed as best as I could my love. I assured them that I was not rejecting them, but this was part of my commitment to care for them. I cannot say for sure, but I think it really helped. It helped both our relationship and the learning of the lesson.

When we are in a harsh situation where God is trying to teach us something, the sooner we realize that his intentions are loving and good, the less bitter the difficulty will seem and the sooner we will learn what we need to learn.

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