When Naomi returned from Moab, God got the credit-or blame for the misfortunes that so wrinkled Naomi's face that she was barely recognizable to her hometown friends. "Can this be Naomi?" they questioned one another at the sight of her.
"Don't call me Naomi (pleasant) anymore. Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (Ruth 1:20-21)
Was it really God who brought misfortune on Naomi? Or Satan? Do bad things come from God? Or does He only send blessings on His children? Recently, an elderly but godly friend came home from church and put her foot in her bedroom slipper only to be bitten by a bat. Now she's quite ill.
Did God send that diseased bat in her slipper? To hear some tell it, only good things happen to the children of God. If something bad or disappointing does happen, it is his or her fault or an attack of Satan. What's the truth?
Discipline? Or Punishment?
"We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment." -- Jim Rohn
The book of Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-6) states it another way:
Do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.
No, it's not a light matter. It is serious business when God either disciplines or punishes. And there is a difference between the two.
Discipline is a type of lessons taught in a controlled environment, such as piano or gymnastics. The lessons may be hard, painful, or boring, but they teach a skill set.
Hebrews (Hebrews 12:12-13) says of discipline: "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."
Punishment corrects a character or behavioral defect.
Hebrews (Hebrews 12:9-10) says: "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.
Both discipline and punishment are painful but both serve the purpose of remaking us into the image of Christ."
Why Not Just Bless Us?
As painful as discipline and correction are, they make us draw more closely to God. Naomi probably never knew her great-grandson would be the great king David. Or that her descendant would be the Messiah. She could only live and die in hope that God would redeem her painful life. Unlike Naomi, the end of our story has not been written. Like toddlers who ask their parents "Why?" over and over, we can only look into the heavens in times of disappointment and difficulty, and ask our Father, "Why?" I'm sure He'd love to explain it all to us. In the meanwhile, we have to content ourselves with the promised hope that "no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
Rebekah Montgomery is the editor of Right to the Heart of Women e-zine, a publisher at Jubilant Press, and the author of numerous books on spiritual growth. She can be contacted for comments or speaking engagements at rebekahmontgomery.com
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