Here is a verse that a lot of people struggle with as it does not at first glance paint the same picture of God that Jesus does:
For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
It’s in Hebrews 12.6, and I have seen this verse used by many to tell them that God is going to beat them, whip them, smack them about the head, make them sick, kill their cat, blow up their car – whatever is necessary to bring them to their knees. In fact, by reading v.8 they then tell people that if God isn’t out to get you then you are not even really a Christian.
Now I think it’s obvious to anyone who understands what happened on the cross – that Jesus Christ is not about to whip anyone. When He made a whip he didn’t even hurt a dove – Jesus is happy to turn over tables, but not people. And if you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father, so it seems obvious that the Father does not chastise us or scourge us.
So how do we handle Hebrews 12.6 – the same way we handle all difficult verses, not by looking away from them, but by looking at them.
Firstly, does God chastise us? If we read the word in the Greek it is paideuo. It means “the process of training children”, “to correct with words” and “to correct with punishment as a legal judge”. So in the context of family this word means to tell someone the truth and keep them on the path and to train someone as a child. In the context of a legal setting, it means to punish someone for their misbehaviour.
It’s similar to the English word “discipline”, which if used of an athlete means to run the race, to make right choice. We praise people by saying they are self-disciplined, we do not mean they beat themselves.
God isn’t disciplining us in the headmaster’s cane sense of the word, He is disciplining us in the good Father and Coach sense of the word! God isn’t chastening us in the Judge sense of the Word, but training us and correcting us with kind words in the good Father sense of the Word. The context lets us know that!
So that’s solved then. But what about the second word, scourging. In the Greek that word is mastegoo, and it means to beat with a whip. The only times it is used in the New Testament it is referring to Jesus’ literal whipping.
Now I have heard a number of options about how the Hebrew word underlying this word can also mean “inquire into”, or can mean “delight in” – and indeed it is clear that Paul – or whoever you consider wrote Hebrews – is referencing Proverbs 3.11-12 which does say the Lord disciplines those He delights in.
However, there is zero evidence that Hebrews was originally written in Hebrew, there is no extant copy of a Hebrew copy of Hebrews and the idea has no external evidence. We can’t build a case on the possible meaning of the alternative meaning of a word in a language that it simply isn’t in and there is no proof it is in, even if the language is Hebrew.
We have to look at the Greek and assume Occam’s Razor, that Hebrews was originally written in the language we have it in – koine Greek. We also have to deal with the fact that in every other usage in the New Testament it is used literally – it actually means to literally whip someone. In this usage it is being used as a picture – even the most strident Calvinist doesn’t believe God is going to literally whip his children!
So what is it a picture of, and how can this verse be comforting to us?
It can be used as a metaphor for sickness – someone being whipped with pain! But we know for sure our Father does not put sickness on us. It can be used metaphorically for to whip a horse, in the sense of anything you do or say to speed someone up. This possibly fits – the idea of our Father speaking to us to encourage us to run our race, to get to where we are going is certainly one that fits the picture of the Father that Jesus painted. Although there is no indication this context is meant, and nothing else that helps with that word-picture.
Finally, though, the word is used as a metaphor in ancient Greece (as it still is today) in the sense of castigating someone. A sharp telling off. Did Jesus ever sharply tell off His disciples? Did He say “oh you of little faith”, did he say “how long must I put up with you”, did He say “why did you doubt”, did he castigate them for being hard of heart? The answer is yes he did. It seems most like that this scourging is done with the Word, which fits into the context of the first word discipline which is also done with the Word.
When we read the Word, it trains us – it chasteneth us – and shows us the correct path. This is mainly a simple thing. However, sometimes in my life, and I am sure in your life too,
However, sometimes in my life, and I am sure in your life too, something jumps out at me from the Word, and then it hits me hard – it makes me think “ouch”. I would probably described times like that as a metaphorical whipping. There have been times mentors of mine have explained certain things to me and I realize that I have been foolish. It felt like a smack in the face. I might even say “Jimmy slapped me good today!” – and I don’t mean for one second that Jimmy hit me, just that correction doesn’t feel good at the time. If you look closely at the word castigate, it generally means to be corrected for setting a bad example. I’ve had moment likes that as a Christian, and it’s not easy!
So does this verse teach that God beats us up and whips us? Of course not. Does it teach that through His Word God corrects us, trains us, and sometimes castigates us? Yes.