“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’” Jeremiah 18:11
Wow, when I read texts like this, I squirm a bit. How about you? I understand that sin and evil are bad. I understand that God needs to deal with the evil in the world, and justice is certainly a good thing. That doesn’t make it any easier for me to read that God is “preparing disaster for you.”
First, let me explore why this idea might be uncomfortable for some of us. Most Christians embrace faith in Jesus because they learn of Jesus’ death on their behalf. We hear that Jesus loves us, and it is a powerful truth. The gospel we encounter is beautiful, rich in grace, and wide enough to cover even our sins. Then as we progress in our Christian journeys, we find ourselves reading passages like this and questioning the heart of God. Why does the God of Jeremiah seem so different from Jesus? What is God like anyway? These questions are completely valid and have plagued many a learning Christian.
To complicate the issue, later in the book of Jeremiah, we encounter a very well-known verse that seems to contradict what Jeremiah has already said. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).” So which is it? Does God plan disaster for us, or does he plan a future for us? The answer must be yes. Maybe a better question is, how does he do both? The answer to that question is hinted at right in this verse. God’s heart is that his people turn: “turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.”
There are two ways to think of discipline. The first is like an angry parent trying to get his children to behave. The child’s actions annoy the parent; the parent disciplines the child to stop them from the frustrating behavior. That is a discipline that is deficient of the discipline that we find in the scriptures. Perhaps a better way to think of God’s discipline is to think of it as the discipline of a loving coach. A coach may demand much from a player. They may demand that players push themselves far beyond what they would naturally push themselves. A good coach does all this because they believe in the athlete and they believe their student is capable of more. God is like that coach in this text. He wants what is best for his people and is willing to train them for that.
Take a moment to imagine the face of God when he disciplines you. Do you see an angry, frustrated, or annoyed face? Try to shift that expression to one of an encouraging coach. How does that shift how you receive discipline from God?