“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:11-12 NIV)
I was talking with a friend the other day about the 2016 presidential election. I was a little further along in processing what seemed to me a disastrous outcome than I was when I last wrote. “I believe God is still in control,” I told him, “I just wish I knew whether he’s working ‘all things…for the good’ or delivering us to our enemies for punishment.” (See Romans 8:28 and, for example, Ezekiel 23:28.)
When I relayed this story to Jani, my friend and fellow FYI writer, her response was so profound that I said I’d have to write an article about it — which you’re now reading. What she said was, “What if they’re the same thing?”
That immediately made sense to me — otherwise, how could there be so many Christians on both sides of the vote, when God cares for all of us? I do believe God is sovereign over all nations (Romans 13:1) and works through human society and government to redeem them. I also know that God has never been one to thwart man’s free will, even when he has a better plan than ours (such as when the Israelites demanded a king in 1 Samuel chapter 8). Just recently, Andrew explored Romans 8:28; in his article, he concluded that becoming better, stronger, and more like Christ is “good” but rarely comfortable.
But it had never occurred to me before Jani said it that giving us what we want, which is often the same as punishment, might also be the same thing as working all things for our good. God can redeem situations that are genuinely awful; he can also work in ways that might seem awful but are actually teaching tools. That made me think of parenting, since God is our Father, after all.
Research has shown that natural consequences are a child’s best teacher. As my children get older, I don’t need to give them external punishments, like time-outs; I can allow them to feel the pain of small failures that I know won’t really hurt them. By experiencing the negative consequences of their actions, they are both justly punished and taught a valuable lesson, which will hopefully spare them from making bigger, more harmful mistakes later in life.
As a father, God disciplines us (Hebrews 12:5-7). This discipline applies to both individuals and nations, albeit in different ways. I still wish the other candidate had won, because I foresee many struggles to defend individual liberties, to fund programs that help people or preserve our environment, and to counteract hateful rhetoric and actions. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m right, it’s possible that having individual citizens rise to these occasions is exactly what our nation needs so that we can become better and stronger. Though I find it shocking, it’s possible that the candidate we need and the candidate we deserve are one and the same.