One of the natural consequences of having a Father is that we are under His authority. Violate that authority, and you bear the brunt of a Father’s discipline. The fact that the Father bears the lion’s share of this burden is evident from every time a mother tells her child: “Just wait until your Father gets home.”
There are two ways that earthly fathers distort this. The first and obvious way is for discipline to give way to abuse—whether it be physical, verbal, or emotional. The second way is less obvious, but it occurs when fathers fail to properly train their children in Godliness. The result of the first style is often a wild child, a “party girl” or guy who’s always trying to get back at daddy. The result of the second isn’t much different; it’s an unruly young adult whose lack of focus or direction leaves them listlessly searching for who they are.
When we consider God, we are confronted by a God who holds His creation to His infinitely righteous standards. This has profound implications for those inside and outside the Church.
THE FATHER’S JUDGMENT
When Paul was in Athens, he begins his speech by highlighting the fact that God is the creator of the universe, and we are his “offspring.” He then derives a conclusion—namely, that our tendency to fashion gold and silver idols is insufficient for real relationship, and apart from repentance mankind faces the danger of God’s righteous judgment:
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:29-31)
God’s Holy character—revealed in Himself as well as His Son—becomes the yardstick by which He measures all humanity. Peter echoes this same point when he tells his readers: “if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile (1 Peter 1:17).”
Peter, of course, emphasizes God’s judgment as a reason to conduct oneself with righteousness even when surrounded by a non-Christian culture. But for those outside the Church, this judgment is all the more severe, because it naturally involves just punishment.
And that’s a good thing. Why? Because a Father who loves but fails to set wrongs to right is really not much of a Father at all. I know that the idea of judgment sounds…well, terrifying, but even if it weren’t true, we should want it to be true. Because deep inside we should long for a God who establishes justice by putting wrongs to right and establishing His goodness across the whole world. And we can be equally thankful that we can experience freedom from the Father’s wrath through the atoning work of the Son.
THE FATHER’S DISCIPLINE
So what about those of us inside the Church? The writer of the book of Hebrews dedicates an extended passage to the Father’s discipline:
4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 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.
6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
7 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? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:4-11)
It’s difficult, of course, to draw a one-to-one correspondence between our immediate circumstances and the Lord’s discipline. That is, I can’t always know whether a bad experience is something the Lord is specifically using to discipline me—but that’s all the more reason to press into God’s character in all circumstances. Not every experience we have may be pleasant, but all may be enriching.
This is where the gospel makes all the more difference. The gospel promises that Jesus bore the Father’s wrath that I might only experience the wounds of the Lord’s discipline. Our loving Father doesn’t walk us around harm, but sometimes through it, so that we might better understand His love and His grace. This is a far cry from either the abusive or absentee fathers of today’s world.
And ultimately, we can trust that the righteousness God sees in us comes not from our works, but through the finished work of the Son. Because of this, we trust in God’s goodness, even amidst the storms.