For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives (Heb. 12:6).
If God is love, why is this life often so hard? If God is love, why is there so much death and pain? If God loves his people, why does life hurt so much?
When reading the Bible, you cannot get very far without reading about the Flood, or the destruction of God’s enemies. God’s judgment seems to fill the pages of Scripture. Yet, one also cannot get very far without reading about God’s steadfast love. Is this a contradiction in the Bible? What are we to do with his actions towards his people that, to us, seem unloving?
Many Protestant pastors, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, made a helpful distinction. They said there are two works of God in his interactions with the world. God’s “proper” work of love and grace must be distinguished from his “alien” work of judgment and wrath.
Love is proper to who God is.
The triune God exists from himself and by himself, from all eternity in perfect love and fellowship. God is completely sufficient in his love. Amazingly, this God—perfect in love and fellowship—created the world. He created the universe because he desired for us to share in that love. This is his proper work in himself and towards the world. He knows his people and is filled with love for them.
God uses discipline to save his children.
In Scripture we see that God sometimes brings judgment against his people for their benefit and salvation. Martin Luther reminds us of this fact, saying, “But when our flesh is so evil that it cannot be saved by God’s proper work, it is necessary for it to be saved by His ‘alien work’—that is, God must destroy our ungodliness in order that we might be saved” (Luther’s Works 16, 233–234; cf. 1 Cor. 5:5).
Because of the sin and rebellion that fill this world, God must show that the end of these things is destruction. If God gave us exactly what we wanted—the things we love—then we would die. He disciplines us so we each might come to see the true love that is proper to him and to us.
God’s nature is life-giving love and faithfulness.
The fullest expression of this can be seen and heard in the gospel. Yet his wrath, while very real, is a function of his holiness because of sin. He sovereignly appoints all things in life in order that he might bring his children to himself. As the author of Hebrews reminds us,
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. 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? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 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? 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. 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. (Heb. 12:6–11)