The Meaning of Chastisement
“We should be grateful to the Lord our God, for putting us to the test, as He did our forefathers. Recall how He dealt with Abraham, and how He tried Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. Not for vengeance did the Lord put them in the crucible to try their hearts, nor has He done so with us. It is by way of admonition that He chastises those who are close to Him.”
— Judith 8:25-27
We live in ever darkening times. Witness the increasing violence from political, social and economic upheaval, the threat of war looming, and nature itself seems to be rebelling with cataclysmic events that shake humanity and take a toll in human life. Moral decline accelerates with the push to accept as normal the agenda of the culture of death, the redefinition of marriage and the decline in support for family life.
A fear permeates the world and we seem to go from evil to greater evil and the question of end times has more frequently been raised by many. Indeed, there have been a number of prophets of doom in recent years.
What is needed is a firm foundation upon our Rock and an understanding of what God is allowing in our world. From earliest times, when mankind rebelled from God’s laws, there has been a price to pay. The price has often been called chastisement. But perhaps its usual meaning of a severe punishment is a misinterpretation of God’s purpose. For if God is Love, and He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, then there must be another meaning for chastisement.
Jesus taught that God is our Father. We call out to Him as such in the prayer Jesus gave us. We are moved by the Spirit to call Him, Abba, an Aramaic word that evokes both the respect and intimacy a child has for his or her father.
And if God is our Father, and He is Love, would He not care for us even as a parent cares for his or her child? Would He not seek only our good?
He has said, “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him takes care to chastise him… For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.” (Proverbs 13:24, Hebrews 12:6)
A child looks at discipline as a punishment. But a parent looks at discipline in the true meaning of the word – a means to teach the lessons of life to a child, to shape that child into a responsible, caring person, to control the passions and direct behavior in constructive ways.
Is God, our Abba, any different in this respect than a loving parent? He removed Adam and Eve from the garden, not out of spite for having His will contested, but to prevent them from further alienation from Him. He saved Noah and his family from a prideful, disobedient world to cleanse that sin from the earth, and begin afresh. He spared Lot and his family from the corruption of Sodom and Gomorrah and erased that scourge from the earth to prevent it spreading its corruption. He allowed Israel to be defeated each time they turned away from Him and sought to follow their own way.
Was this punishment? Or was it the action of a loving parent to remove His children from further harm?
Does not a loving parent do the same, remove the temptation or take the child out of the situation that would bring them harm – in this case eternal damnation? And what child, wanting his or her own way, doesn’t feel that discipline is punishment, rather than a means to teach that child what is harmful and what he or she can do to avoid getting hurt?
As St. Paul wrote “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” (Heb 12:11)
Each age has its trials and tribulations. Perhaps, as our recent Popes have warned, our time is a bit different. The day is certainly further spent than it was when St. Peter referred to “one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.” (2 Pet. 3:8)
But does that mean that the End of the Age and the End of Time are imminent? That is a question none of us can answer, for even Jesus said, “But of that day and hour, no ones knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone… Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: it the master of the house had known the hour of the night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you must also be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. ” (Matt. 24:36, 42-44)
The key is to watch and be vigilant, to read the signs of the times and place your trust God, our Father. For “Unless you turn and become like children,” Jesus said, “you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)
We must become as little children, trusting in our Father to care for our every need, even before we ask. All we need do is trust in His Mercy and Love, trust that He will be our Rock, our Fortress, our Shield, our Deliverer.
He is giving us every opportunity to turn back to Him and away from the world which seeks to destroy us. The trials are His means of discipline to teach us what is essential. We are not made for this world; we are made for God’s new heaven and new earth. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) The thief is Satan, and his time is now. The evidence of his handiwork is everywhere. As God allowed Job to be tested to strengthen his faith, so He also allows us to be tested to purify us as gold is tested in fire. “In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested in fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness… Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life.” (James 1:2,-3, 12)
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athletes exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
“You make the winds your messengers; flaming fire, your ministers.” (Psalm 104:4)
“He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)
Sometimes God leaves us to our own devices. And in our willfulness, we can stray from the right path. It is akin to a story our Holy Father Pope Francis told about learning how to fly a kite and relating it to letting children grow:
"There'd come the moment when the kite would begin making a 'figure 8' and begin falling. In order to keep that from happening, you mustn't pull the string. The kids who knew more than us would scream, 'Give it some slack, it's wobbling’!" Pope Francis said.
"Flying a kite resembles the approach you need to take regarding a person's growth: sometimes you need to give them some slack because they are 'wavering.' In other words, it is necessary to give them time. We have to be able to set limits at the right moment, but other times we need to know how to look the other way and be like the father of the parable (the Prodigal Son) who lets his son move out and squander his fortune so that he learns from experience."
"In this your rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire," (1 Peter 1:6-8)