Hebrews 12:5-12 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We are God’s children. And just like earthly parents discipline their children, our Heavenly Father will discipline His children. We know that parents discipline their children out of love. It’s never enjoyable or comfortable while you’re receiving it, but in the end it is to grow us and make us better. Parents do that because they love their children and want their children to grow into the best adults possible. The wonderful thing to think about though is we discipline as sinning, erring human parents. But God disciplines in perfect love. Think about how much better and wiser and more prudent that discipline is. The tricky thing for parents is knowing when to apply discipline and what it should be. We have to figure out when to pick our battles. We know we can’t discipline over every minor infraction. And we can’t apply the same technique for each offense either. Some things require more severe punishment than others. As human parents it is so hard to know the right path on each action. But discipline from God is perfect. He never has to question whether the battle should be picked or not or whether the punishment fits the crime. His discipline is in perfect discernment. Luke 11:13 If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” In the same way, if we who are evil try to discipline our children in love, how much more can the perfect Heavenly Father discipline us in love?
The scary thing is that it says if we are not receiving discipline from the Father then we are not really His children. And since discipline can be seen as suffering in the moment (since discipline is never “fun”), then this pretty much guarantees that as children of God we will suffer at some point just out of our need to be disciplined. We are His children and we will be disciplined, and discipline is painful.
A great example of God using suffering to teach is through Jonah. We all know that Jonah was swallowed by a whale but do we stop and consider why? Jonah was fleeing from God’s command to go to Nineveh. He was being disobedient. As Jonah boarded a ship to go in the opposite direction of where God told him to go, God caused a storm, God directed the lots to fall to Jonah, God prepared the fish, and God had the fish swallow Jonah. Was that suffering of being inside a belly of a fish God’s will? Not exactly. God’s will was for Jonah to obey. Because Jonah freely chose to disobey, God taught Jonah a lesson in obedience – just like we do for our children on a daily basis. But remember, God also had the fish safely spew Jonah back onto to dry land. God was the source of that suffering for instruction, but God was also the source of Jonah’s redemption. God played the same role to the city of Nineveh, where Jonah finally did obey and go preach. God had told Jonah that the sin of Nineveh was so great that He was going to destroy the city. Again, the people freely chose to disobey, but God was going to be the source of their destruction. But God was also the source of their redemption because God sent them Jonah. And because of Jonah’s preaching, the people of Nineveh repented, and God did not destroy the city.
God can also use suffering to teach other people around us. Let’s think about the Israelites who were too afraid to cross over into the Promised Land. Moses sent out twelve spies but only two of them trusted in the provision of God to have the strength to take the land. The other ten, and the rest of the Israelites, decided those people were too big and scary for the Israelites to conquer. They even said they would rather go back and be slaved in Egypt. Can you imagine how that made God feel? Well, we don’t have to imagine too much because it says in Numbers 14:26: “How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against me. Say to them, ‘As I live, says the Lord, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above. Except for Caleb and Joshua you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness.” But check this out in verse 37 “those very men who brought the evil report about the land, died by the plague before the Lord.”
Wow. God was serious wasn’t he? He denied passage to the Promised Land for that doubting and untrusting generation, saving only the younger generation to experience His rest there. What kind of impact do you think that had on that younger generation? They had to live 40 years wandering in the desert all because their parents didn’t trust God. Do you think that made them trust God more? They had to toil and sweat as a punishment for their parent’s distrusting God. Think about the further impact once they finally saw the Promised Land and entered into it. They could see the full picture. They could see that God was trying to bless them if only they had faith in it. They could see where they could have been living for the past 40 years if it weren’t for their parent’s faithlessness. God used the suffering of the older generation to teach the younger generation about trust and faith, about God’s goodness of His promises.
But in reality, the entire Bible is basically one giant book of hardship. The whole thing involves the suffering. The suffering serves multiple purposes as God can use the same experience to accomplish multiple things. It may be a consequence of our sin that God uses to humble us while teaching a loved one what not to do at the same time it leads a coworker to salvation. But all of these stories of suffering in the Bible have one common effect: they all teach us. We can learn something from every trial and tribulation found in the Bible. We can learn that God is serious about obedience, that God shows mercy, that God hates sin, that God gives us comfort, that God is sovereign, that God judges our sin, that God loves us in the middle of our sin, that God does forgive us, that God loves us, that wants us to love Him, that God disciplines us because we are His children. So God uses the suffering of the saints to teach future generations about His character and about how we are supposed to live in light of who He is