Does God Harm People?

Does God harm people? Does he beat up his kids? Does God bring sickness, disease, even death, in order to accomplish good in his kids?

One verse that people use to support this theological drivel is Hebrews 12:6, which reads (in the NKJV):
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."

A quick glance at a Greek lexicon will help us.

The Greek word used for “chasten” is παιδεύω. The Strongs lexicon (http://bit.ly/TbnnDR) says the primary meaning of παιδεύω is:

1) to train children
   a) to be instructed or taught or learn
   b) to cause one to learn

Since the immediate context is about fathers training their children, and specifically compares God’s fathering to human fathering, this is an excellent contextual fit. The idea is more of a firm coach than a child-abuser, and the context, very much about fathering, supports the concept of instructing, training, coaching.

By contrast, when was the last time you heard of a father that brought home a polio virus to infect his son as an expression of his love? What loving dad would cut his daughter’s brake lines so she’d crash and spend a month in ICU? Who in their right mind would respect such a father or hold him up as an example for others to follow? [Hint: it wouldn’t be God!]

Does he train us hard? Well, when was the last time that a competent coach who trained his players gently? Did they every win anything? Sure, training is hard. But it is not abusive. It's not about sickness, death and destruction; that's somebody else's job description. Jesus came that we “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (Romans 10:10)

The second half of the verse is considered metaphor by Greek language scholars, and it is in the Hebrew pattern of “parallelism”: the second phrase complements or clarifies the first phrase: Yes, God trains his kids. “For whom the Lord loves, he trains, and he spanks his sons when they need it.” Parallel ideas: the first phrase tells us how to interpret the second phrase.

A better theological foundation about the nature of God is found earlier in Hebrews: in 1:3, the Bible declares, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” Note: “Exact representation.”  

In other words: Whatever is true about God’s being is demonstrated in Jesus. In other words, if you don’t see something in Jesus, you’re in error if you believe it about God.

A lot of people have this OT image of God always ready to smite someone, always ready to judge people with death and disaster. That’s poppycock! How many people did Jesus smite? How many did he kill? How many times did someone come to Jesus, “the exact representation” of God’s being, asking to be healed, only to be told, “No, it’s better if you stay sick, because you’re learning something from the sickness.”

That, of course, is the theological equivalent of saying, “The devil – whose job it is to steal, kill and destroy – can do a better job of raising God’s kids through stealing killing and destroying, than God can do through loving them.” That, I’m afraid, is profitable for nothing more serious than fertilizing your tomatoes: run away from such stinky, libelous accusations of God’s character!

Someone will say (and often loudly and rudely): “But God judges sin! God is holy!”

Yes, God is holy. And yes God judges sin; in fact he has already judged sin: Jesus was judged for sin! He was crucified, nailed to a tree, because of sin; because of all sin! In fact, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

So then, whose sins did Jesus miss? Whose sins are still un-judged? Whose sin is too big for the sacrifice of the Incarnate Son of God? Who did God overlook in his dying for the entire world? There ain’t none! (Though you and I know that there are some folks that are working hard to reject his payment for their sin; that’s a different conversation, and involves Revelation 20.) 

Let’s acknowledge that God is actually good, and let’s expect goodness from him.

Home Fellowship or Church Fellowship?

There has been a fair bit of discussion among Believers recently about what it means to “go to church” or “be part of a church.” 

The illustration (it’s not model) that the Bible gives us for where the church met in Jerusalem is in Acts 5:42: “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

[Note that there were at least 5000 believers (Acts 4:4) in the temple courts (Acts 5:12), and they had no PA system. It was not physically possible for one man to stand in front of that many people and communicate well with them all. Either they had miraculous sound reinforcement (I think Jesus used this method sometimes), or each apostle taught a more modestly-sized portion of the larger crowd. Either way, they spent more time (every day) meeting in homes.]

Later in Jerusalem, and also in Asia, Paul showed another model when the persecution showed up: Act 19:9 “But when some were hardened and did not believe…. he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”

Paul did make use of synagogues, but as places to practice evangelism, not the place for the fellowship of the saints: the synagogue was their history, but not their community any longer: they were no longer the People of the Law.

I observe that the Biblical model involves Christians meeting in public spaces (the temple courts were perhaps the social equivalent of the shopping mall; the School of Tyrannus might equate to the local high school gym) for training. But it’s clear that the church was more equated with people’s houses in the Biblical model (Acts 8:3, Romans 16:5; 1Cor 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2.…). Some say that the only reason they met in people’s homes was persecution, and that may be a factor, but that factor doesn’t seem to be a major issue in the Book.

I also observe that when the church was meeting among the Jewish people, it used Jewish methods and settings (temple grounds), but when it met among the gentiles, it used gentile methods and locations (School of Tyrannus). It appears that while Christianity – the Church – came from Jewish roots, it is not a Jewish function. The Judiazers were one of the greatest heresies opposed by New Testament apostles. The apostolic conclusion: you don’t need to become or to stay Jewish in order to become a Christian.

In our “Western Culture”, we make everything into a mass-production factory. We’ve done it with education in the public schools, with government, with sports, with our shopping malls. So of course we’ll do it with our church-life.

My point is NOT that mass-producing Christian fellowship is inherently evil. My point is that it that it is equally not evil to choose a different model for fellowship.

I home-schooled my kids, for about half of their education. In hindsight, they preferred the homeschooling to the public schooling, and I observe that they learned more during those years, they encountered far less social “drama”, and they where happier in the non-factory education model rather than the factory model. Home-schooling is WAY more work than shipping the kids off to the local public school, which is rather factory-like.

I shop at WalMart. A little bit. (I figure that my prayers for the company have more authority if I have an investment in the company, but that’s another conversation.) But I also shop at the local farmer’s market. The factory shopping experience has more variety, and often has a lower cost-of-participation (selling price), but the quality of food that I get at the farmer’s market is hugely superior. In addition, the instruction I get from the farmer’s market about how to use the item that I’m purchasing is light years ahead of what I get from the factory.

As for sports, I prefer to play Frisbee golf with my friends rather than watch the Seahawks or the World Cup on TV. It’s way better exercise, better fellowship, and the relationships forged there actually means something, whereas the pro sports have no eternal significance that I can discern. On the other hand, I don’t ever have sore muscles from watching the factory sports on TV, and I can switch channels freely when I get bored.

In the same way, I’ve learned (the hard way, frankly) that farmer’s market version of church, the home-school version of fellowship produces a superior product, albeit at a greater cost.

We have this value system in America that if it isn’t done on a big scale, it isn’t really the right way to do it. I’m looked at as weird because I don’t have a TV and don’t like the shopping mall. And so many American Christians appear to look down on their brethren and, er… “sistren” who choose to find their fellowship outside of the American Church Factory.

I say all this to say this: Christian fellowship in the home is actually “more Biblical” (found more commonly in the Bible) and more historically accurate (existed long before) than the building of large and expensive “church” buildings.

People who choose home fellowship should not feel inferior to people who choose the large, formal setting for their fellowship. The mega-church is not somehow “better” Christianity. Neither should people whose primary fellowship is in the home feel or declare superiority to others who find a place in the large fellowship.

Let’s find ways to enjoy unity, to celebrate each other.