Yesterday, I went to a large church in London. I had never been to this church, and it was an enjoyable experience. It has an esteemed history of good expositional preaching, but I couldn't help fundamentally disagreeing with the sermon. The text studied was Hebrews 12:4-11. Here it is, for your delectation:
4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:Not an easy passage, by any means. I'm glad they did it, and they had the audacity to tackle it. But, in my opinion, they tackled it wrong.
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."
7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
He started by saying that as hard as it may be to fathom, God disciplines us. Good thus far, and I'm hopeful, as it may answer questions I have myself. He then said that we mustn't get discipline and punishment confused, as God doesn't punish us for specific sins. He may humble us, he may remind us who is God, but he will not punish us for particular sins. I agreed in essence with this idea, but it's hard to try and define things that happen to us as punishment, or consequences, or discipline. I still don't know the answer.
Then, unfortunately, he said something that I could not fathom, or agree with: 'God creates suffering or hardship to discipline us'. To take his understanding to an extreme, God caused the earthquake in Haiti, the cancer in a loved ones body, the flooding in Pakistan, the stillbirth of a child, the tsunami in the Pacific Ocean and the death of a teenage girl in a car crash.
I cannot accept this. I literally have no capacity to accept this. I cannot even begin to fathom that God, the creator of this world, would actively take part in those things in order to 'discipline' those he loves.
This morning, I awoke to a text from a very dear friend who split up with her boyfriend of 2 and a half years. A 'minor' event, perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, but her whole world just came crashing down. Just to 'discipline' her? I got another text later on the morning telling me that another friend had multiple cysts on her ovaries, and at the age of 18, is looking at the possibility of not being able to bear children. Because God loves 'disciplining' us?
They're two things that I have experienced today that make me think that what the preacher said last night was more or less hocum.
I'm fairly sure I've communicated myself badly, and I'm fairly sure people are going to shoot me down. Right now, though, I don't care. Help.