The Problem of Pain… A Study of the Father’s Discipline

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom for MEdom Project

also, consider reading the sequel to this article, “Doubt in the Madness of the Perfect Storm”

There is physical pain, psychological pain, and spiritual pain. Jesus said that we are to love God body, mind, heart, and soul. But when we wander off course, we do so physically, cognitively, behaviorally, and spiritually. Sometimes it becomes necessary for God to do what is needed to get us back on course to keep us from running away from home. And sometimes it hurts… sometimes it hurts a lot.

“The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Since I originally wrote this article, I have found myself in a situation that will challenge my faith in the midst of intense pain and injury. It is difficult to understand and accept what God intends to reveal to me and how he intends to challenge me.

One thing I am learning these days is that the faith I feel can be different from the faith I know. I know intellectually and spiritually that God loves me and that he is faithful. I am coming to believe that when I feel doubt and anxiety that it is different from the doubt, divided loyalty, and double-mindedness the apostle James speaks of in the New Testament. Even upon hearing from the Lord, while feeling assurance talking about it with my pastor, I experience feelings of intense anxiety and fear at various times throughout my day. But what I know to be true in what I heard and saw from God is the grace that allows me to sleep soundly when my emotional mind is unconscious and not driving thoughts.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:5-8 (NLT)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. James 1:5-8 (NIV)

The way the narrative goes in this passage, it reads like God will punish you if you doubt and will choose not to bless you, protect you, deliver you, or provide for you. I don’t think that is how this passage is to be interpreted. I don’t think God’s ego is such that He is offended if you doubt, so He will turn His back on you in a huff. Rather, should I doubt in what God can do, why would I expect to receive from Him what in my mind He cannot or will not do?

I believe that James is writing that God does not find fault with my emotionally-driven fear and anxiety when I come seeking from Him everything from wisdom to a miracle. Because should I doubt God’s ability to engage, work, and move in my circumstances due to an intellectual conclusion of disbelief that God is God, and I turn to alternative remedies to manage fear and anxiety, then I am wavering and in the gusty winds of divided loyalty. It is then I am double-minded and unstable in pursuit of feeling a sense of resolution. It is then that I am lost like sheep without a shepherd. While James writes then that I ought not to expect to receive anything from the Lord it doesn’t mean that I won’t receive from Him. James is speaking about my state of mind. He is saying that I will have lowered my expectations of what God can and will do. Especially if I have committed to something or someone other than God, why would I expect to receive from God?

I’ll say it again… If I have concluded that I probably will not receive much, if anything from God, why would I expect to receive much, if anything from God? It’s a reasonable hypothesis. There really won’t be any relief from pain, fear, and worry should I altogether not believe in what God can do. It’s common sense at that point. I’m an emotional mess from the empty conclusions I have drawn intellectually about what God can and will do. Absent is the hopeful anticipation of Godly intervention that would calm my nerves and speak to my spirit.

Thank God I believe intellectually and spiritually in what God can do. Too often, though, I question my faith because I doubt on an emotional level. I need to stop the practice of riding my feelings until I feel guilty that I doubt God. I feel guilty doubting God because of what I know and believe intellectually (in relationship with Christ) God can do; I struggle emotionally with what I believe God will do. Is He willing? Is there something wrong with me? I think that’s what it means to have faith in the midst of doubt because of the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen (Hebrews 11:1). What I feel isn’t necessarily a reflection of what I know. What I doubt emotionally isn’t necessarily a reflection of what I know intellectually and believe spiritually.

Things unseen… hmmm. You know what? God loves me so much that the other day to confront my fear and worry, He gave me something I could see. It was a visible practical manifestation that God is at work in the process. While in the midst of a “mini-crisis” that wasn’t really a crisis at all, my 90 plus-year-old mother-in-law told me she was praying that God is faithful. I responded sarcastically with my real crisis in mind, “We’ll see” (wondering what God is up to that this crisis is happening at all in the first place). When the “mini-crisis” was averted inexplicably, as I shared it with my wife, she said, “My mom prayed.” Instantly I broke down and wept as the Holy Spirit of God reminded me to trust Him to be at work in the process. I shared my experience with a dear counselor friend who told me, “God gave you something tangible that you can hang your hat on.” So I know that the Lord does not find fault when I feel doubt and confusion driving my fear. And I did receive from Him because He loves me. My real crisis lives on painfully and while I may struggle from time to time emotionally, intellectually I am certain that God is able and willing. I am trusting in the process of His work in my life as I endure through the problem of pain.

As you read this and consider the injurious nature of your own pain and struggle, take caution not to trust your emotional reaction that may suggest to you that you lack faith because of emotionally-driven doubt. If you are dealing with pain and crisis while you read this, be careful not to get caught up emotionally that bad things are happening in your life because God has judged you and is punishing you. This is about the discipline of a LOVING FATHER for children He loves and nurtures and blesses generously from a place of compassionate grace and MERCY.

But just like discipline can be painful in the short term, the long term benefit and ultimate reward is immeasurable and unimaginable. God is in the process of working. He is working in the process. Trust in the process of God’s work. (I am writing this to myself as I am writing it to you.)

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)

Are you ready for it? Let’s go.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. In just a short time he will restore us, so that we may live in his presence. Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.” Hosea 6:1-3 (NLT)

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world… No doubt pain as God’s megaphone is a terrible instrument; it may lead to final and unrepented rebellion. But it gives the only opportunity the bad man can have for amendment. It removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

I have typically struggled with the notion that the loving compassionate God who paid a rich ransom to save me would turn around and deliberately punish me. I figured that there were natural consequences to my selfish sinful behavior and I have been accepting of such consequences; even though I might dread that real life consequences are on the way. I have lived by the precept that I ought humble myself or be humbled by the just and jealous God. While I may not like it, I ought discipline myself or be disciplined by the righteous and holy God.

I don’t like it… I don’t like it at all. Isn’t it enough that life on planet earth has its share of pain? Is it true that God would inflict pain against me? Does God do that?

“The world is a dance in which good, descending from God, is disturbed by evil arising from the creatures, and the resulting conflict is resolved by God’s own assumption of the suffering nature which evil produces.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

The Good Shepherd

......good shepherd (2)This is inspired by the sermon I heard in church this morning. Pastor Aaron Koehler talked about how sheep that would continually go its own way, venturing from the flock into dangerous territory despite the efforts of the shepherd to redirect the sheep, would have its legs broken by the shepherd. The shepherd would then bind the legs together like a splint to begin the healing. While the sheep was healing and couldn’t support its own weight to walk, the shepherd would carry the sheep until it would walk on its own willingly following the lead of its shepherd. The difference is that while being carried during the time of healing it is essential that the sheep fully depends on the leading of the good shepherd.

As I spoke with Pastor Aaron after the service it hit me. Oh, how I love it when it comes like that. Here it is… Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world. Jesus Christ was the lamb who’s legs may have literally been broken, not because he was wandering astray but because I was heading for hell—eternal pain. Jesus stepped in front of that roaring train of eternal death, his legs may have have broken on the cross. (I say Christ’s legs may have been broken because Scripture points out only that the criminals dying on crosses on either side of Jesus did have their legs broken, to disable the ability to breathe, hastening death by suffocation for burial before Passover. Most likely, Jesus had already died of a broken spirit.) I suppose it could be said that as Jesus carried his cross that he carried the sins of mankind upon his shoulders; our legs broken to arrest us from sin so that the debt of sin could be paid as Jesus took our pain and suffering so that we could be set free. ...... jesus carrying crossHe had already been beaten and would go on to experience excruciating pain, even that of condemnation for three days and nights.

Torn apart, injured and disabled in the belly of the earth, the loving Father of the Son carried him from the depths of hell all the way to the throne of grace at His right hand. This Son had not experienced grace until He became grace for you and for me. Grace for Jesus required immeasurable pain. Sometimes grace for you and me requires measurable pain in this lifetime so that we can be absolutely free of pain throughout eternity.

“We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

One of my least favorite scriptures is Hebrews Chapter 12 that speaks to God’s discipline like that of a loving father from a heart of love for his child.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

While that is encouraging and inspiring, it doesn’t solve the problem. I am the sheep that keeps wandering off doing my own thing my own way. My sin won’t kill me. Jesus took care of that. I have been justified by faith in relationship with Him. But from time to time sin trips me up; sometimes much more easily than it should considering my sincere claim to love God and abhor evil. I am meant in Christ to be victorious as I run the race, enduring the aches and pains that come from running. But when I take my eyes off the Shepherd I drift into dangerous territory that I suppose could be quite painful in this lifetime in the flesh. I don’t know. Is it possible that I could drift so far off course that I might reject Christ? Is it possible? I sure hope not but God would know.

Maybe the Spirit of God is communicating to me what Jesus said to the man he had healed from paralysis when he encountered him drifting astray around the pagan temple. Either way, the Good Shepherd intervenes by whatever means necessary to put me back on course with the rest the flock running toward the ultimate reward. What did Jesus say to the man he had healed?

Afterward Jesus found him in the Temple and told him, “Now you are well; so stop sinning, or something even worse may happen to you.” John 5:14 (NLT)

. . . Lamb-on-Shoulders (2)I have always thought that Jesus meant that “something worse” is the death of eternal suffering. That is likely what he meant. But what if he meant that it wasn’t enough that the Good Shepherd broke the man’s legs to prevent him from certain destruction until Jesus would intervene? What if Jesus meant that it might require even harsher discipline to save the man’s life once healed?

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’ and look on things as if man were the center of them.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

So the Bible is clear that Jesus is my Shepherd, apparently willing to break my legs if that’s what it takes to keep me on course. Scripture tells me—warns me—to keep my eyes on Jesus lest something worse happen to me. While the “something worse” may not be eternal suffering and pain, it could very well be something that could really wreck my life in terms of the quality of this lifetime here on earth.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew these jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but He is building a palace. He intends to come in and live in it Himself.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The Loving Father

And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said,

“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes each one he accepts as his child.”

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. Hebrews 12:5-11 (NLT)

So if my Heavenly Father is motivated by love, what am I so afraid of when it comes to a loving father disciplining his child? Perhaps it’s because my dad was motivated by love when he disciplined me growing up, and there is no doubt that there were times when I know he was angry as he tore me up. He was not abusive but definitely adhered to the proverb “spare the rod, spoil the child.” What I think tore me up more was that I disappointed by dad. Letting him down was the injurious effect on me from my dad’s discipline. As a child I didn’t understand that to not discipline his son would suggest that the father didn’t love his son; to the extent that he would have rejected and disowned me. My father’s discipline was indeed evident proof that my dad loved me and that I was indeed his.

Would God Do That?

As Pastor Aaron was making impassioned points about the relationship between God’s discipline and His love for us I could here my young friend offering quiet affirmations under her breath as she applied the meaning to her life. My friend is in her late twenties. A few years back she needed a ride home and was involved in a horrific car accident. Not wearing her seat belt, she was thrown from the driver’s side back seat to the passenger’s side back seat. It’s been reported that her head hit the closed door so hard it popped the door open and she was catapulted from the vehicle. She was kept in a coma for a couple of weeks while the swelling in her brain gradually subsided. Her brain stem was crushed. If she lived, it was likely she would be paralyzed and not walk again. There was so much prayer for her.

The reason she needed a ride home is that she was too drunk to drive. She was often too drunk and high. An extremely impulsive young lady, while in her early twenties she was heavy into drugs and alcohol; following in the footsteps of her alcoholic mother and stepfather. She hadn’t had much of a relationship with her biological father. She was definitely on course for destruction and doom.

When she was a young girl, my wife and I had opportunity to take her to church. It was something she wanted to do. By the time she was in high school, though, all that had changed. She had gone her own way. Whenever we saw her she was friendly and it was clear that she was fond of us. We were fond of her and prayerfully concerned for her. She would become increasingly distant as she sank deeper and deeper into her addiction.

Even her alcoholic mother was praying for her in earnest as she was laid up in a hospital bed following the accident. While in the hospital she woke up. She could not speak or walk. She needed help for everything. She would be in the hospital and then rehab for several months. Eventually she would talk and even walk. Her gait isn’t the most steady, she uses a cane for assistance, but her life is a walking, talking miracle. She is even driving and has been for a couple of years now.

So how do you think she responded to the scripture from Hosea that reads “He has torn us to pieces… He has injured us”? Honestly, as I sat next to her, I had not considered how this message applied specifically to her. But then the pastor read this passage as it was printed on the large screen behind him:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” Hosea 11:1-4 (NIV)

Pastor Aaron drove home the point that God does what He does as a Father to His children (tearing down the parts of us that our leading us to ruin) so that He can remake us into something so much better than we were. I heard her respond very quietly, “Yes”. When he stressed the need for our Father’s discipline, she said affirmatively, “In His own way.” Wow! She gets it. In the past year, she is back in church, she’s been baptized in water, and has grown into something beautiful and special as a woman who loves her Savior and everything that comes with that.

Did God really do that to her? Did God deliberately put this young lady in harm’s way to be literally torn apart, put through so much pain and struggle, still injured to the extent that she struggles continually each day of her life? I would hate to think so. I am very uncomfortable with that. Most people would be. Only a cruel judgmental punishing God could do something like that, right? But she seems to be resolutely comfortable with that. She believes that God either allowed or put her through all of it to save her life forever. Only a loving Father would go to such lengths to save the life of HIS child for all eternity.

Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.” At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:60-69 (NLT)

To my friend, the Good Shepherd and loving Father broke her legs because she was so insistent on running directly into certain destruction apart from the goodness of His grace. Remarkably, she is comfortable with that! She recognizes that the loving Father put His Son through so much more so that all she would have to face is an earthly tragedy that brought her back into the fold. She loves her Heavenly Father for doing that for (not against) her.

Loving Each Other

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)

The Hebrews writer is on to something. He is saying that the root of bitterness is a poison that is so powerful that someone may even resist the grace of God overcome by resentment. I suppose one way to buffer the discipline of my loving Father is to become vulnerable and entrust my character flaws to the judgment of others that I trust to be honest and forthright with me. The strongest, most righteous God fearing, God loving person is most vulnerable to the forces of jealousy and resentment. The ego is most fragile for any human being and we often do not realize when we are most tempted to go to those places that can cripple a person. The concern and support of a brother or sister operating in the love of Jesus will save me from myself if I submit myself into accountability to a few people I know I can trust. In the recovery field we would call this person a sponsor; a mentor and friend in recovery. Part of self-discipline is a willingness to submit to the discerning wisdom one who knows me and has sincere concern for me.

He is God, I am Not

“The proper good of a creature is to surrender itself to its Creator—to enact intellectually, volitionally, and emotionally, that relationship which is given in the mere fact of its being a creature. When it does so, it is good and happy.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

What I believe is that God is God and I am not. I need to live as though God is God, I am not, and from a heart of love my Heavenly Father will discipline me as a loving father would. But being that I have grown, it is time to put away once and for all childish things. That doesn’t mean I can’t have a good time. It means I don’t have to indulge in mischievous and deviant folly to have a good time. God created fun! He came up with joy and happiness! He is satisfaction! Why can’t I experience contentment in the joy and happiness that comes in bringing Him pleasure? I want to experience authentic unencumbered joy.

I need a shepherd to keep me on course. I need discipline to direct and guide me and keep me in the fold. You need a shepherd to direct and guide and keep you in the fold. While we are healing from the wounds of the Shepherd’s discipline we are more likely to fully depend on the lead of the Good Shepherd. Understand, if we are so headstrong as to breach the sensibility of a righteous life into the very best of God’s plan and purpose for us (for our benefit), He will do whatever it takes to keep us close to Him… whatever it takes. We may appear to be lost from time to time; but then the Good Shepherd searches for us until we are found. That is amazing grace.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever. Psalm 23 (NKJV)

“If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.” —C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Consider reading the sequel to this article, “Doubt in the Madness of the Perfect Storm”

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
It was nailed trough his cross, and I bear it no more,
Bless the Lord, bless the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well, with my soul!

It is well, (it is well),
With my soul, (with my soul)
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

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One Response to The Problem of Pain… A Study of the Father’s Discipline

  1. Rick Selling says:

    Thanks for this insightful reading, Steven. Nice job of compiling with your insights mixed in….The Lord’s discipline has been an important part of my life, including clear warnings of taking my life if I persisted in my particular form of rebellion and deliberate transgression. I took those warnings serious and repented. When I describe some of these things I often get glazed over eyes and comments like “that’s spiritual abuse” (as one of those warnings came from a pastor). The key point here is the one you make so well—why he does the discipline. As you–and the scripture state….He does it for our good and our ultimate holiness. Thanks, again.

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