For me, among the most difficult passages of scripture for me to ponder is Hebrews 12:3-11: “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. 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.”
There are at least a few elements of this passage I find difficult to deal with. The first is that the author of Hebrews ties together the hostility that Jesus Christ suffered from sinners with the chastening that God gives to believers in order to discipline them as sons. This is a difficult implication to draw because the discipline that God gives to believers can be very difficult. From the pages of scriptures of scripture we can see that even the prophets of God who prayed for God to judge Israel and Judah for their sins had difficulty dealing with the way that God chose to discipline them. It is worthwhile to examine a couple of those passages at least briefly. The first occurs in Amos 7:2-3 and that is largely repeated in Amos 7:5-6: ” And so it was, when they had finished eating the grass of the land, that I said: “O Lord God, forgive, I pray! Oh, that Jacob may stand, for he is small!” So the Lord relented concerning this. “It shall not be,” said the Lord.” A second example occurs in Habakkuk 1:13-14 : “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he? Why do You make men like fish of the sea, like creeping things that have no ruler over them?”
In both of these two examples we see a similar difficulty, in that God has traditionally used heathen nations to judge His own wayward people, and that those heathen nations and peoples are often far more corrupt and evil than the nations of God that are being punished. Yet when the people of God fall short of setting a godly example for others, and model instead the corrupt example that is all around them, a rebuke is necessary so that they can fulfill their purpose to serve as a royal priesthood of believers . That rebuke is sent through prophets, through “natural” disasters and financial difficulties and other collective punishments, and ultimately through captivity and exile from one’s native land, having to make one’s way and earn one’s bread among strangers far from home and hearth. It is difficult to realize that the higher blessing that comes from being called first by God is such a serious matter that it means one can be punished by the wicked because one is being held to a higher standard, at least for the present.
There is something else that is perhaps equally troubling, though, that is easy to pass over in reading this passage quickly. The passage in Hebrews 12 speaks of the opposition of the wicked to Jesus Christ as an analogous situation to the rebuke and chastening that the people of God have to endure. Yet this opposition, the continual hounding and slandering, including painful slurs about his personal life and family background, were entirely undeserved. All of us are flawed and fallen; all of us have at least something in our lives that is worthy of just correction and rebuke, sometimes very substantial and serious matters. Yet the discipline we receive from God is not merely punishment for our sins, but also designed to refine our character, even if it means suffering injustice. It is difficult and painful to see that the empathy and understanding and compassion and intense fire for justice that make someone fit for the Kingdom of God require such intense suffering. Just as people may be broken as a result of their own mistakes and folly and errors of judgment, not all of that result may be punishment, but some of it may be meant to provide suffering that gives insight and that makes one fit to be compassionate on those who have erred and who have been punished far harsher than deserve, even as receiving some grace so that we do not suffer as we deserve may allow us to avoid hypocritical resentment of others who have similarly gone scot-free in this life for their misdeeds.
It is, in general, very painful for me to reflect on the chastening and discipline that parents give children. Without going into too much painful personal detail, I endured what I consider a particularly savage childhood. Some of the savagery of my childhood was the result of broken people hurting others out of their own damage. Other parts of the savagery were a result of a conscious attempt to engage in tough childrearing in order to deal with my somewhat stubborn and willful personality as well as to toughen up a child that was thought to be a bit too gentle and tender and sensitive by nature. Discipline in general is a difficult matter to deal with. It is hard to know precisely how to motivate people to do some things and not do others without in any way making love contingent or mercenarial in nature. It is hard to deal with people when they are both so stubborn that they do not listen to gentle warnings and yet so wounded that even little things can cause immense stress and suffering. We are curiously made, and difficult to deal with sometimes.
Yet God chooses to deal with us as sons (and daughters), as His children. We are supposed to see in our own parents an analogous sort of discipline and love that we see from God. We learn about the nature of God and how He deals with man from the authority figures in our own lives. We learn about the love of Jesus Christ for mankind through what we see from marriages, and we learn about the love of God the Father through our own mothers and fathers. Just like the fact that the Israel of God was meant to model God’s ways as an example for the world around, so too authority figures and parents and spouses are supposed to model God’s ways to show how our relationships on earth are a model of our relationships with God and Jesus Christ, and with other believers, who are our brothers and sisters with whom we will live forever. Yet the brokenness of our lives hinders our ability to model God’s ways to each other and to the outside world. And it is children who suffer, children who may struggle their entire lives to see the discipline of life as springing from love, who cannot understand that it is so important that we develop the noble character and loving nature of God that it is worth all the pain and suffering, all the sleepless nights, all the nightmares, all of the disappointments and stress and anxiety of life so that at the end of it all we are beings who can be raised incorruptible in the image and likeness of God to live forever, and to show to others the same love and guidance that we received from our Heavenly Father.
Ultimately, the purpose of the discipline of God is not to make Him feel powerful, any more than it is the purpose of parents to build up their own ego through their discipline of their own children. The goal of discipline is to shape conduct, to encourage the development of good qualities and to encourage self-discipline and restraint when it comes to areas of weakness or imbalance. The goal of parenting is to create young people who are of noble and godly character who are competent to be lights in a dark world, capable of resisting temptation and avoiding evil and living godly lives, often in the context of having their own loving families and raising future generations of godly men and women in the same way. When we see the long chain of godly believers in terms of families as well as in terms of eternal life, the short time that we must endure such suffering and chastening, whether for our own faults or because God is seeking to give us insight and understanding that can only come through suffering is worth it, especially when we remember that part of our responsibility in the Millennial kingdom and in the world to come will be dealing with those who have lived the same sort of broken lives that we have, and who will need to be treated as well with love as well as correction. God willing, we will be competent and caring in that task, full of wisdom in how to shape those we will be responsible for, and compassionate to the fact that no discipline is pleasant until one has reached the place where it has served its purpose in shaping and forming godly and righteous and noble character that lasts an eternity.
 See, for example: