This week I had more than one occasion to give the following pastoral counsel.
Children don't always get why their father does what he does; why he disciplines them now but not then; why his discipline is this kind rather than that kind; why he seems so hard and mean and angry when he says he loves them.
To be sure, with human families fathers are often capricious and act out of frustration or anger rather than true love. But that is not always the case. Often a father's discipline or strictness is based on a genuine love for the children. Yet even then, children don't get their father and the direction he is leading them to. And that's because children are children. They don't see (and don't want to see) how the father's discipline, words, etc are for a greater, long-term good--or a good that won't kick in until much later.
Now, if this is how it is with earthly children and earthly fathers, how much more do we, the children of God, not get our heavenly Father, whose "thoughts are not ours thoughts, nor His was our ways."
Certainly, we cannot and do not want to see the big picture. And certainly, we see discipline as punishment; and we see bad things happening as God's anger.
There is a clear distinction between discipline and punishment. And one of the simplest ways to see this distinction is to remember this:
God doesn't punish. He disciplines. In other words, what He does (that we don't like, get, understand or that seems harsh and mean) is His way of training and leading us in the way of salvation. It is one facet of His love.
Let me clarify: punishment happens. But God doesn't do it actively.
Instead, we are punished when God lets us have our way; when He steps back and say, "Okay, do it yourself, for you think you know best." And then we tend to blame God for what we, really, are doing to ourselves. (This is what St Paul means when he writes that "God gave them over to a debased mind." Rom 1.28)
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