By Ben Fiddian,
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of
God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…” (1 Peter 5:6)
This blog post is proving difficult to write. That is not because there is nothing to say. It is because the middle finger on my right hand is currently out of use. A few weeks ago I decided to pick up an old hobby and whittle swords and whistles out of sticks for the children to play with. Of course when you are learning mistakes happen and mistakes with a knife can be painful and disabling. Choosing the wrong tool for the job is a novice error and it was a painful lesson. The cut is not too bad but it will probably take a while to heal and there is no way to short-cut the process. All I can do is accept my limitation until function is restored and determine not to err in this way again.
To suggest that suffering is sometimes a necessary part of learning is not a popular idea. However, it is something that resonates with many people who have experienced pain. You would not wish the same on anyone else and yet, somehow, you would not have missed it for the world because of what you learned and how it caused you to mature and develop. Thinking like this may simply be a way of finding meaning in terrible and costly experiences which are even harder to bear if we believe they are arbitrary. These things have greater meaning for Christians. It is well beyond me to explain this completely but we believe that the reason we learn through suffering is because God teaches us through suffering. Although God is never the author of evil, in His unfathomable wisdom He has permitted it to exist temporarily and always over-rules it for our ultimate good.
One of the metaphors used to portray this in the Bible is the idea of a loving (not abusive) parent disciplining a child. Discipline always involves some sort of ‘cost’. For example, if a child is grounded they feel the pain of missing out on things that other children are enjoying. Children who submit to the discipline and learn the lessons, find that their ‘time-outs’ are fewer and shorter than their more stubborn and rebellious siblings.
In a sense, the Old Testament exile of God’s people was a kind of ‘time-out’. In saying this I do not mean to trivialise a period of great suffering and death for many people as the nations of Israel and Judah were conquered step buy step and taken away into slavery and servitude. Nevertheless, God took them out of their “Promised Land’ for a set period of time to teach them a specific lesson. Surrounded by idols, and suffering at the hands of idol worshippers, God’s people began to learn how privileged they had been to worship the one true and living God who is a God of love and mercy. They quickly began to long for the nearness of God they had taken for granted in days of old. However, God did not lift the ‘time-out’ as soon as they started longing. He promised good to those who would willingly submit to this painful discipline. He enforced the set time, bringing severe consequences on those who sought an easy, premature way out.
This is my thought. During the initial stages of ‘lockdown’ it felt like a painful wound had been inflicted. It hurt us to lose freedoms that we took for granted – not least, the freedom to gather for the worship of God. Many of us, as Christians, were quick to recognise that this was God’s discipline. We saw that there must be lessons which He intended us to learn. Are we still there? Are we still looking to Him to teach us? Are we determined to go the whole way with Him, yielding to the discipline of His infinite, fatherly love, no matter how painful that is? Are we looking to Him to ‘lift the ban’ in His way and His time? Are we aiming to come out of this in a position of greater submission and trust than the one we started in? Or are we beginning to grumble and look for a quick solution as we feel the discomfort and pressure of the ‘yoke’ that has been laid on our shoulders?
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be
weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one
he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:5-7).
Ben is part of the lecturing team at the Faith Mission Bible College
Follow his blog at https://fidzbit.blogspot.com/