This was originally written for LRBC on August 20 2017.
Hebrews 12:3-11 is full of guidance on how to respond to something called “the Lord’s discipline.” I would suggest that the author of Hebrews invites us to consider the difficulties of life and the hostility suffered for Jesus’ sake as a form of this ‘discipline of the Lord’ (cf. 12:3-4; 10:32-34). In this way faith functions as a kind of sight that interprets hard times in light of the providential purposes of God, instead of a product of randomness, karma or simple bad luck.
Beyond this, there are several things that faith ought to discern from this.
First is God’s displeasure toward our sin. It is prudent to hesitate at least several times before assuming a particular hardship is a direct rebuke from God for some particular sin. But it should at least remind us, and be an occasion to renewed repentance.
Second, we can remember his goal of instructing us and sanctifying us. We should consider what we can learn from our experience to progress in Christian maturity – although at times the growth or lesson may not be recognised until long after.
Last and best of all, we can be reminded that this shows his love for us – if we are his children, then of course he would take steps to shape us up in our holiness and maturity. Why would he do otherwise? Only if we were not his children. But he loves us, and so he works for our good, albeit painfully at times.
This passage also anticipates several ways we could respond wrongly to hard times (12:5). We could ‘regard it lightly’ and not consider it a discipline from the Lord, or we could reject it from him as unloving. Or we could ‘become weary’ and fall into despondency, neglecting the practices of our faith, or faith altogether. Or, rightly, we could take it with faith as our heavenly Father’s loving discipline, employed to make us more like Christ.