Our parents disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:10

A lot of people these days seem to think that god, in his infinite wisdom, only wants for good things to happen to us. But, because of our sins, we bring pain and suffering upon ourselves. If I’m reading this passage correctly (I’m not), the suffering we endure is punishment and through it we find holiness. This passage makes me think of the self-flagellator with his cat of nine tails, who has taken this idea to an extreme. If I cause myself to feel pain, this will purchase some kind of forgiveness or make payment for a debt.

I think a better example of this might be a parent with a mentally handicapped child. There are some among us who would say that the child’s deficiency was caused by sin of the parents. The child is a punishment, though they would surely never admit to it in those terms. No, god works in mysterious ways. Yeah, his idea of discipline is to confer it upon a soul with only the sociopath’s idea of a connection to the grievance.

But let’s not forget that there are two parts to this verse. The dichotomy is actually pretty hilarious. I will attempt to paraphrase the verse in a modern (and probably more aggressive) way, and flesh out some of the implied meaning.

Your parents beat the shit out of you until you got big enough to fight back, but god will never stop beating the shit out of you. It makes you stronger, sissy.

 Lest we forget that god knows best, we must turn our asses upon him. We must allow him to tan our backside frequently, we must always seek discipline to attain a fragment of his holiness.

My dad is a retired southern baptist pastor. I grew up in the church, his church, rather his many, many churches. I’ve read a solid portion of the bible, say 60%. I don’t claim to be a biblical scholar and I don’t put myself into situations where I have to debate with christians. It’s not a sport to me, I don’t enjoy that.

I like to entertain ideas. Stick with me here. I mean entertain in the sense that you would entertain guests at your house, except in an ongoing sense. I realize that entertaining at your home every day would be a nightmare, but ideas are usually great house guests. They don’t sit there with their phone out or yawn uncontrollably. They don’t get too drunk and ruin your shit. Ideas are instantly your best friend, whether you agree with them or not. In the interest of full disclosure, this means sometimes they come into your house with saccharine sweetness, you’re not really sure if you recognize them, and they later rob you. The fact is that, as you get more experience entertaining, you can see the signs before it’s too late to do something about it. You need to see a few bad ideas, really get to know them, before you get the experience you need to make quick assessments.

But I digress. My point is that I think there are 3 ways to read this verse, each one a bit more severe than the last.

  1. Your parents did the best they could for you, but god knows better. Allow god to teach you that you may grow closer to him. (fuzzy)
  2. Your parents are weak, but god is strong and his discipline is strong and you need it because you’re weak and it’ll make you stronger.
  3. All of the things that go wrong in your life are the result of punishment meted by god, but it’s cool because it makes you totally holier

There’s an obvious fourth interpretation being left out, but the atheists and humanists among us already know what it is and the christians are all sensitive and stuff.

Where do you stand on this idea? If you’re not a christian (I’m an apatheist , fwiw), try do what I described above. Stand at the doorway of your mind, and assess this guest arriving uninvited. Is there an interpretation I’m missing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[N.B. the lack of capitalization is intentional, in the interest of fairness to everybody and nobody.]