I’ll bet that some of you consider that a preposterous idea—a God of love would never be so “mean.” You may think I’m crediting God with Satan’s work. However, the Bible tells us of a man who experienced a similar misery of the soul—a misery that he, an inspired biblical writer, described as divine discipline.
I believe that it is in my best interest to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). I understand that my peace will become steadier and my joy sturdier as I grow into the Christ-like character that God has predestined me to possess (Romans 8:29). I know that it is God’s fatherly affection that drives him to discipline me toward this end (Hebrews 12:6), and that the pain of chastisement leads to the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:9). But even so, I hate that holy rod of correction with which God has, at times, inflicted great misery on my soul—yes, misery.
Maybe your experience of the Father’s disciplinary action thus far hasn’t yet been unpleasant enough to merit a word like “misery.” Perhaps you are sensitive to the Spirit and responsive to his initial, gentler proddings toward holiness. I tend to fall on the more hardheaded side of the spectrum. In my first three or four years of following Jesus, I resembled a blind, deaf mule more than a sheep that follows his voice (John 10:27). And though I think I have grown a bit less stubborn in these last couple of years, there are seasons when my obstinate tendencies gain fresh energy. There are weeks or months when I persist in various patterns of disobedience, plugging my ears to the Spirit’s soft whispers of conviction—leaving God with no choice but to take a more heavy-handed approach. And in my life (I think he disciplines each of us differently), this heavy-handedness usually doesn’t take the shape of circumstantial discomfort. God has shaken up my outward circumstances a couple of times to get my attention, but he generally goes about his disciplinary work in less visible but no less uncomfortable ways.
I am by nature an emotionally frail person. For all of my life, I have struggled to exercise control over my thoughts and feelings. However, when I am striving to embrace the faith and obedience to which Jesus calls me, the Holy Spirit gives supernatural strength to my inward life. He charges me up with joy and breathes a calming peace into what is naturally an unstable atmosphere. But when I persist in various sins about which the Spirit has gently convicted me over a substantial stretch of time, God withdraws and allows my inward life to descend into utter chaos. Anxiety and depression storm my soul. I become an erratic mess of a person who is unable to think straight, rightly perceive reality, or feel at all connected to God. I try to pray intelligible prayers but can do nothing but groan. The Lord and all his comfort-inducing blessings feel a million miles away.
Yet I know, even in the midst of my misery, that this is God’s disciplinary love in action. This inner turmoil is his doing, and he’s doing it because he cares for me. I’ll bet that some of you consider that a preposterous idea—a God of love would never be so “mean.” You may think I’m crediting God with Satan’s work. However, the Bible tells us of a man who experienced a similar misery of the soul—a misery that he, an inspired biblical writer, described as divine discipline. The following are the words of David—king, prophet, psalmist, and beloved child of God:
“O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath!
For your arrows have sunk into me,
and your hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of your indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
My wounds stink and fester
because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
For my sides are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am feeble and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.” – Psalm 38:1-8.