The author of Hebrews writes, “the Lord disciplines the one He loves” (12:6). The word “discipline” in the Greek is paideuō, a verb whose primary meaning is to train up, or educate, a child. Its secondary meaning is to chastise or correct. Like a parent or a teacher, the Lord instructs and corrects the ones He loves.
Let me phrase that more accurately: parents and teachers, made in the image of the Lord, instruct and correct the ones they love. It’s important to understand this paideuō, and that understanding is connected to another important biblical verb, metanoeō, which means to change one’s mind for the better or turn away from something – to repent.
God wants us to keep our eyes fixed upon Him. I confess, this has proven challenging for me. The years have not made it easier but have, in fact, revealed to me just how fraught with difficulty it is: my senses notice much that wildly distracts me; my mind meanders, exploring its own ideas; my heart is moved by things of this world; my will at its best waivers and at its worst chooses badly; my appetites and desires batter me and often govern me. It’s hard to keep my gaze fixed upon God.
In the midst of all this sound and fury, how can my vision remain on Christ? Thankfully, it’s enabled to do so through a life lived in repentance: as my gaze wanders, the Spirit turns it back to God. This is His instruction and correction. This turning, this metanoeō, is the result of His paideuō.
The nature and degree of this instruction is generally proportional to how far my gaze has wandered. When a passing fancy captures me, perhaps the instruction is simply a reorientation of my view. When a temptation sweeps me away, the instruction is likely to be firm, more final, and it’s probably going to be difficult path. In the former case my gaze has been averted but for a moment, realigning with relative ease. In the latter, my view has become so clouded with my passions that I can no longer see rightly or clearly. Perhaps I even resist seeing God.
It’s easier for me to understand this when I consider what it’s like to be a teacher. As such, I want to facilitate glimpses of truth for my students. When a student misses the mark, for example, taking a wayward path in solving an algebra problem which will produce an incorrect answer, I seek ways to direct the student’s gaze back to the truth. This turns the student in the right direction and leads to a solution. My paideuō is to facilitate a metanoia (the noun form).
The realignment may be easy and painless. The student may see the better path immediately, the tension resolves, and a solution is achieved. On the other hand, what if my student brings to this innocuous academic problem more than just getting slightly off track? What if the student brings fears of failure? Negative and upsetting experiences in math in the past? A high degree of frustration with confusion? Or, a prideful resistance to being corrected? In such cases, my instruction will look different. It will require more discernment and more action on my part. It may even demand an uncomfortable intervention contending with emotions, desires, and willfulness. It may require discipline.
The student who fears must perhaps learn to discipline those anxieties through greater understanding of them and the nature of the subject and the task. Maybe the student fearing failure must acquire the discipline to negotiate the reality that not only is failing part of life, but frequently the greatest advancements are secured by means of it. The student who has had negative experiences might need to acquire the discipline to face them squarely and the courage to surmount them. The student for whom confusion produces frustration perhaps needs help to see the path to clarity as well as to discipline frustration by channeling it toward positive rather than negative goals. The student who is prideful may need to grasp that all learning requires humility and may benefit from help figuring out how to discipline conceit.
We all know, being human, that these things usually involve struggle, and sometimes suffering. With regard to physical mastery we say that when there is no pain, there is no gain; similarly, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual discipline bring with them travail. We also learn that pain is an indication that change is needed; putting your hand on a hot stove hurts, and the natural response is to remove it.
In 2020, we see and feel pain – dear ones and cherished activities being ripped away in grievous and disturbing ways. Given this, perhaps we might consider it an opportunity to direct our vision back to God.
What might His paideuō be?
We can no longer comfortably gather for large entertainment events like sports competitions, concerts, or theater and movie showings. Perhaps God is suggesting we would benefit by being participators rather than passive receptors. Perhaps we should consider returning to the days when small communities – not just the children – had local ensembles, choirs, and sports teams. Made in His image, could He be calling us to be more active and creative in our own local communities – beginning with our families in our own homes – because these characteristics are essential elements of His own nature?
Eating out as so many had become accustomed seems a thing of the past. Perhaps the Lord is inviting us to turn back to cherishing our individual capacities to make our own food not only aesthetically palatable and enjoyable, but more nutritious and life-sustaining? Made in His image, is He calling us to provide for ourselves and our families, and to lovingly serve them in our homes with nourishment which is from the fruits of our own labor, just as He daily works, nourishes, and provides for us?
We have forgone large celebratory events like graduations and weddings. Possibly, the Lord is asking us to ponder whether these things are all about the party or the purpose? Maybe our vision has been clouded by focusing on the revelry, instead of on the gifts we have received from Him and what we will do with them. Created in His image, could He be pointing out that we should certainly embrace celebration, feasting, and joy…but not at the expense of focusing on what those occasions mean in the context of building and sustaining our families and our homes?
Casually gathering with family and friends is fraught with concern. We rely instead on means of digital communication. Is it possible God is summoning us to realize how very precious human fellowship is… that we value real people more than we value virtual representations? Perhaps He is also realigning our vision to realize that we must use our digital technologies more wisely and intentionally, because despite the great gifts they bring, the pitfalls are becoming increasingly obvious. Created in His image, is God inviting us to return to living in real-time and real-place at home with our families, rather than losing ourselves in avatars we create and broadcast to an untethered cyber-world?
We can no longer automatically presume to send to our children to school, expecting the systems and the experts to take over their instruction and training. Possibly, God is pointing us back to a fundamental understanding that children flourish most when they are brought up and taught by those whom they love and who love them; that humane education takes place not by bureaucratic fiat but in comfortable, welcoming communities; that children do not learn best in massive institutionalized buildings bereft of beauty in which a consecutive series of strangers, albeit well-meaning, attempt to form bonds of learning which will be broken every year of students’ lives from tender young ages through adulthood. God does not lecture us or send us into break-out sessions to work on projects. He walks alongside each of us, tells us stories, paints pictures for us, and lives with us moment to moment. He leads and guides us experientially by forming a deeply intimate, personal relationship with us. Made in His image, perhaps He is asking us to gaze at what it means to disciple others in our homes as He disciples us – and to realize that discipleship is, in fact, education?
Gathering for worship and communing together has become precarious. Is it possible God is asking us to examine why we have been worshipping together? Was it to receive His blessings and give Him praise? Was it to be nourished by what we had constructed in our buildings, our interiors, and our programs? Was to socialize and entertain? All of those things are well and good, but perhaps God is asking us to consider if – other than those moments turning our gaze towards Him at church – we had been taking the time to dwell on Him, and with Him, in our homes? Maybe the Lord is asking us to consider that home should be a sacred sanctuary in which we delight, not a place – or a people – from which we want to escape. Made in His image and filled with His Spirit, we know that we are His temples. Worshipping in our sanctuaries together is very good. Wouldn’t bringing Him home with us into our everyday lives as well be even better?
We human beings have been pursuing our own images since time began. But perhaps we have done this most strenuously and spectacularly in our age. This pursuit has allowed us to take gifts from God’s hand, such as technological advancement unparalleled in history, and present ourselves to the world as our own gods, worshipping at the altars of our self-projections. While we have been obsessed with this, what has actually been happening to the world and to us in the world?
In 2020, is the paideia of God working a metanoia, refocusing our eyes back to Him and to who we are Imago Dei? Is He moving us, with our families, into our homes because that is where He can be richly found, because He is our ultimate Home? Should we not long for home the way Odysseus yearned for Ithaca, or the way Frodo longed to return to his hobbit hole in the Shire? Is it now time for turning back home?