These two selections illustrate the paternal relationship God has to humankind and focuses on the role discipline plays in affirming that relationship. The excerpt from Proverbs is direct in its message to the children of God. We are supposed to receive discipline with a sense of gratitude because it gives meaning to the act through its divine motive. Though the initial response to discipline may be to resent or even rebel from it, this passage tells us that the act of discipline should not be perceived as an oppressive force. Instead, His love is proven by His willingness to exact punishment for our deviance.
The Hebrews passage delivers a more subtle message through its significantly more complex approach to the subject. Here discipline is understood through the conduit of punishment, and the more general concept of punishment is compared to the pain and suffering Jesus suffered as a blood sacrifice for human sin. When making the comparison between blood sacrifice and human punishment the point is clearly made what is considered “pain” by humans is relatively trivial. However, the point of this passage is not to demean the children of God. Instead, it addresses the love inherent in such punishment.
Like the passage from Proverbs, the Hebrews excerpt is intended to point out the caring nature that is part of the discipline God exercises. Punishment is intended to elicit self-discipline in the minds of God’s children so that the future crucibles in the road of an individual’s spiritual life can be faced with assurance and equanimity. Discipline is often misunderstood in the formation of the spiritual life. Too often it is perceived as negative. This is understandable of course when we realize the development of self-discipline normally begins with an external assertion of discipline.
As such, an external force working against our inherent nature, we are liable to put up a fair amount of spiritual resistance. This resistance is most often manifested in our individual sense of pride. This pride is the first stumbling block we must overcome on our path to true resignation to the mind of God. The pride we feel is intimately linked with our love of living life according to our own pleasures. Discipline, both in its external and internal manifestation, is a regulatory force that moderates this propensity for individual pride and indulgence. Discipline is a theory as much as it is a practice.
The message of discipline is moral. Without the moral guidance provided by discipline and individual is free to follow a pleasure principle exclusive. Such a pursuit leads inevitably to an immersion in sinfulness and weak moral principle. However, discipline is not merely a restrictive force. It is also a transcendent one. By maintaining discipline we step closer to the spiritual goal of resignation to God’s will. The man or woman of true discipline is capable of walking in the path God sets before them because they have attained an intuitive understanding of spiritual faith.
Paradoxically, the attainment of true discipline can ultimately become liberating, allowing the individual to feel comfortable amidst a wilderness of worldly temptations. The inner security of a dependable moral compass allows a person to exercise a pious life without having to be continually reminded of prescribed morality. The true inner sense of what is sinful and righteous becomes so intuitive in a spiritually disciplined person that walking the path of goodness is a matter of character, not a matter of choice.
The world of goodness will triumph in the mind of someone who understands the way to discipline is through seeking and embracing the rigors of a live lived well. The greatest model for discipline we have as Christians is in the life of Jesus. His resignation to the plan for him conceived in the mind of God is a metaphor for the acceptance we must all eventually come to in order to find spiritual peace. Like Jesus, we are placed into a narrative leading to some ultimate fulfillment. While we are not asked to assume a burden as dramatic as His, we are supposed to find a way to accept the challenges placed before us.
His goal was to save all His children from the inherent stain of being human. Our goal is merely to deal with our own confusion of how to be who we are with a sense of loving what is right. The spirit is a thin and airy thing, but it is not fragile. It waits to receive the nourishment only discipline can provide. The mindful attention to doing what is moral is that elusive quality that binds the soul to the body. This bond, once it is secured, is unbreakable. The body and spirit in accord is one of the strongest elements in the world, and one that remains attainable for anyone willing to invest the hard work it requires.
Many people believe that discipline then is merely a means to achieving some ethereal reward. However, this is an unethical motive for infusing discipline into one’s spiritual life. The only ethical reason for pursuing discipline is for its own rewards. Discipline must ultimately be its own single and self-satisfying goal. By expecting some final reward out of it, we are essentially undermining the self-denying principle of discipline itself. Discipline is the end in and of itself. To expect more than that is to falsify its attainment.