Monday, November 04, 2013

Discipline is good - The Instructor

This is a continuation of my series on Clement of Alexandria and his book, "The Instructor." If you are new to this series or are unfamiliar with Clement and his book, you may want to first read the introduction to this series.
"God, then, is good. And the Lord speaks many a time and oft before He proceeds to act. 'For my arrows,' He says, 'will make an end of them; they shall be consumed with hunger, and be eaten by birds; and there shall be incurable tetanic incurvature. I will send the teeth of wild beasts upon them, with the rage of serpents creeping on the earth. Without, the sword shall make them childless; and out of their chambers shall be fear.'" (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
So God is good, yet how do we reconcile this with such scriptures as Clement quotes fro Deuteronomy? How can God be good yet be so angry? The key to understanding this is to recognize that God is not a man and His emotions are not like ours. He has the same emotions but without the sinful passions that are often attached to those same emotions when we express them.
"For the Divine Being is not angry in the way that some think; but often restrains, and always exhorts humanity, and shows what ought to be done. And this is a good device, to terrify lest we sin. 'For the fear of the Lord drives away sins, and he that is without fear cannot be justified,' says the Scripture. And God does not inflict punishment from wrath, but for the ends of justice; since it is not expedient that justice should be neglected on our account." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
Clement again quotes from the Book of Sirach and refers to it as "scripture." This book was part of the Greek version of the Old Testament that our early Greek speaking brothers and sisters read from.

God's anger is measured and calculated to bring forth good in our lives. The prophet Nahum says that, "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means leave the guilty unpunished." (Nahum 1:3) God has a wide range of instructional tools that He uses in our live. He starts with the mild and gentle tools attempting to persuade us and to direct us towards the right way. However, if necessary, He will use the more strident and harsher tools to rescue us, if possible, from our own destruction. As a parent, I always strove to never punish my children out of wrath, yet there were times where I did just that. However, God never fails so but only punishes and corrects by way of justice and never out of wrath. God disciplines us for good and never out of an attempt to satisfy His wrath. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, "Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness." (Hebrews 12:9-10)
"Each one of us, who sins, with his own free-will chooses punishment, and the blame lies with him who chooses. God is without blame. 'But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance? God forbid.' He says, therefore, threatening, 'I will sharpen my sword, and my hand shall lay hold on judgment; and I will render justice to mine enemies, and requite those who hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh from the blood of the wounded.' It is clear, then, that those who are not at enmity with the truth, and do not hate the Word, will not hate their own salvation, but will escape the punishment of enmity." (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
When God's anger is aroused because of our own sinful behavior, we must be careful not to condemn God, for the fault does not lie with God but with ourselves. When we receive for ourselves discipline, correction, and punishment from the Lord, it is we who have chosen it for ourselves by our own behavior. In exercise of our free will we have chosen behavior that earns us the discipline and correction of the Lord. God does not desire our punishment but He will not shrink back from it when it is useful in our lives; to turn us from sin towards righteousness.
"'The crown of wisdom,' then, as the book of Wisdom says, 'is the fear of the Lord.' Very clearly, therefore, by the prophet Amos has the Lord unfolded His method of dealing, saying, 'I have overthrown you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; and ye shall be as a brand plucked from the fire: and yet ye have not returned unto me, saith the Lord.' (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 8)
The Lord disciplines that He might save, He punishes that He might rescue from the fire of judgment, and He corrects and He might transform. God is not afraid to use those things that we might consider to be harsh, unpleasant, and discomforting; not to please His wrath, but to do good for us. These steps, along with His milder correction and guidance are all an expression of His deep and abiding love for us. The write of Hebrews put it best, "It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." (Hebrews 12:7-8) His discipline in our life is proof that we are His children and that He is our Father.

David Robison

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