Here again Hebrews 12 is instructive. It says the Lord disciplines those He loves and punishes everyone He accepts as a son. (Incidentally, the older translations rendered the key verbs discipline and punish as chastise and scourge respectively—this marks our shifted attitude toward punishment as well as anything.)
The true father desires that the true child not be found rebellious and unworthy of the calling to inherit the father’s estate. A mark of a child’s authentic relationship with a father is the father’s willingness to bring correction, even when it is painful.
A true parent wants what is best for his child. He wants the youngster to be content with life, satisfied, and fulfilled. Even so, it is God’s purpose that we glorify and enjoy Him forever, that we find our satisfaction finally and fully in Him. The Scriptures say that when we willfully rebel, God will render discipline, sometimes punishing seven times over (Leviticus 26 is replete with graphic images of the pain God will inflict on His disobedient people). The rod hurts. It is supposed to.
It is common to think that a parent who withholds such pain spoils the child. The Scriptures are far more blunt: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly” (Prov. 13:24). Just as true love demands that we say we are sorry (often!), so also true loving chastisement will mete out pain as an instructional instrument. Of course, a time comes in every child’s life (hopefully!) when the rod is not necessary for correction—the father’s disapproving glance is enough to bring repentance. As we and our children grow more mature, our own wickedness and backsliding become sufficient punishment and rebuke for our souls (Jer. 2:19).
Does God ever take the life of a Christian to keep him or her from further sin? To seek to answer this question is to attempt to step behind the veil and discern the mind of God. When a child of God suffers, it is entirely appropriate for him or her to ask, “Is this suffering divine chastisement for some blatant disobedience?” It is, however, wholly inappropriate for others to ask that question of the suffering one. When a child of God dies in sin, we can only speculate as to God’s purposes. Of course, 1 Corinthians speaks of some “falling asleep” due to their sin with regard to the Lord’s Supper, so it would appear that God, in extreme cases, may take some believers home to Himself rather than allow them to wallow more deeply, ravaging themselves in sin.
Finally, we have the example of Jesus. The chastisement that brought us peace was laid on Him (Isa. 53:5), and that was a chastisement unto death, the infliction of which pleased the Lord (53:10).
Charles H. Spurgeon likened God’s chastisement of His children to the repeated mowing of fine lawns as compared to the relative neglect shown to unkept meadows. “To be very dear to God involves no small degree of chastisement,” he said. In a similar way, Jesus used the familiar image of the vinedresser, who necessarily must prune, trim back, and cut away the plant to increase its produce. This is always painful. The flesh dies hard. The pain can be deep and abiding. But the pruning is never meaningless.