Some of us know that our parents loved us when they disciplined us. Some of us are not so sure. A portion of us were abandoned, where proxies stepped in. Proxies may have been a relative, a neighbor, or a teacher. The military may have rearranged our understanding of authorities and respect. Or, maybe it was a boss at work. Or, prison.
To consider that every thing that tempts us and every thing that causes us pain can be justified as valuable for the higher purpose of discipline seems too blunt. “Endure your trials as discipline,” the author of Hebrews tells us.
What greater place does discipline deserve?
The reading today leaves out three verses that seem rather important to the notion of discipline:
“If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards. Besides this, we have had our earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not [then] submit all the more to the Father of spirits and live? They (our earthly fathers) disciplined us for a short time as seemed right to them, but he does so for our benefit, in order that we may share his holiness.”
Boys and girls are told to do their chores because it will strengthen their character. Athletes are told to push their bodies beyond the pain because it will prepare them for a contest of wills and skills that only comes through training. Lawyers for the defense press their clients in dry runs, bringing them to the brink of tears and anger, to prepare them for inevitable attacks from ruthless prosecutors. Education administrators require updated courses from their teachers in order to assure that students will pass tests that determine the very funding for their school.
The interplay of discipline between someone in authority and the subjects to that authority relies upon an ancient agreement of respect for authority which allows for the bending of our wills, where we submit to that authority.
The list of authorities who coach us, monitor our driving, audit our taxes, expect proof of our identity, inspect our work, and challenge us to explain our politics have agendas in mind. They want our team to win, our constructions to be safe, our property to be protected, and a host of other expectations.
We live within a system of caretakers, officers, accountants, legal agents, educators, counselors, priests, managers, supervisors, and officials. It seems only logical that parents, our primary experiences of authority, who better prepare their children for all of this oversight perform a great service for us. The more our parents attend to our training and discipline, the smoother our path. We better grasp the roles of all those folks who have responsibilities when we respect our parents and their dedication to a proper upbringing.
Some of us know that our parents loved us by disciplining us. Some of us are not so sure. A portion of us were abandoned, where proxies stepped in. Proxies may have been a relative, a neighbor, or a teacher. The military may have rearranged our understanding of authorities and respect. Or, maybe it was a boss at work. Or, prison.
No parent was perfect, though. And all the loving parents, and all the love offered through proxies, never adds up to perfect love. Quite a bit of our upbringing probably didn’t involve love at all. Consequently, our training and ultimate discipline has lots of holes, here and there, where we weren’t properly brought up. These are places where we struggle with respect for authority. Even more problematic for most of us, motivators other than love were involved in the implementation of our discipline.
Scripture recognizes that broken lives and weaknesses in our discipline, the lack of love and respect, will create stumbling blocks. The book of Hebrews, specifically, presents a dual edged argument for the difference between God and all other authorities. God loves perfectly, and God disciplines perfectly.
The Father of spirits, a description of both God and our being, an existence that we share with angels, by the way, properly sets up what God wants from us. Holiness.
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which many may become defiled.”
While all of our ingrained training and discipline seems directed toward a safe, healthy, and peaceful world, a place where drivers don’t crash, businesses don’t steal, laborers don’t take dangerous shortcuts, and athletes don’t cheat, God’s expectations goes two large steps further.
First, be holy, and then reveal the Lord to everyone else. What God is saying is that we do not reveal God without holiness.
An undisciplined son or daughter of God, in fact, hinders the flow of grace. Our holiness is not just a good thing, it is an essential element of God’s design for the conversion of the world.
If we walk with God, we become his instruments. If we don’t walk with God we become his impediments.
“So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.”
Most, if not all, of us are injured in both body and spirit. We are lame. God wants to heal our broken parts, and repair our holes of discipline with a training that comes from perfect love. Without God’s loving healing our spirits are dislocated, just like our bodies. Without submitting ourselves to God and being disciplined for holiness, we offer our brothers and sisters nothing, but dislocation, droopiness, and weakness.
God is urging us, instead, to be holy for each other. We are better for him when we let his grace flow.