For the most part no one likes to be disciplined. In fact if discipline takes any form of punishment it is rare to find someone who enjoys that. Whether or not we know it or understand it, we are constantly receiving discipline every day of our lives. The environment in which we live delivers discipline on a steady basis. Believe it or not, discipline is needed for growth and maturity. Perhaps another name for discipline is learning.
To establish a common ground for this article, discipline is defined as an application of stimuli to the person, either on a naturally occurring basis, or in a systematic application designed to affect the person’s actions. The person receives this stimulation through any number of ways: All of their senses, or any combination of senses. That stimulation can also come in a cognitive form through the thought process.
A stimulus received through a naturally occurring event might be the proverbial apple that fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. Within the context of our earthly environment we are subject to the “Law” of gravity. Consequently when the apple “goes up, it must come down”; even if it took several months to grow so far up in the tree. When it matured, the stem disconnected from the branch and the apple fell to earth and hit poor old Newton on the head. So, in the most foundational sense, Newton was disciplined in the sense of “learning” about something. We understand now about the rotation of the earth on its axis and the centripetal force that tends to move everything to the center of the earth through that movement; we call it gravity.
A systematic application of a stimulus could be something like a Teacher’s lesson plan in a reading class. The teacher places the paragraph for reading in front of the child, has the child read out loud, and then guides the child with her voice of approval or disapproval on the correctness or incorrectness of the pronunciation of the words in the paragraph. The Teacher’s voice serves as a stimulus to give the child feedback for right or wrong. Through the process the child learns not only how to pronounce the word in that paragraph, but everywhere else that word appears in other readings. Believe it or not, during this process the child was being disciplined.
The Behavioral school of thought has outlined four different types of things that can be done to a person for learning. Those four things include,
1. Giving the person something they really like;
2. Giving the person something they really do not like;
3. Take away from the person something they really like; and,
4. Take away from the person something they really do not like.
Now, other than the degree to which these four things can be applied, when you think of it there really is not much else you can do to or for a person. The stimulus being applied moves from extremely pleasant to the person all the way to extremely painful or aversive to the person. Therefore, the application of any of these four stimuli has some kind of effect on the person.
The effects of those four things mentioned above include either an increase of certain behaviors, or a decrease of certain behavior. Think of your own behavior. If you do something and you receive what you consider a big reward for it, you tend to keep repeating that same behavior hoping to get another big reward. If you do something and you get a big slap in the face for it, you tend to not do that so often anymore. The same thing happens when something is taken away. If you do something and something you really like (money for example) is taken away from you for it, then you tend not to do that behavior again. If you do something and something you really hate (like a migraine) is taken away from you for it, then the likelihood of repeating that behavior is increased (like taking pain medicine). All of those forces or stimulation is part of discipline, or learning.
Anyone who has taken a three-year-old into a grocery store certainly understands the need for discipline. As we grow and mature into adulthood we sometimes fail to recognize our own personal need for discipline. The Bible, however, tells us that it is not only needed, but it comes about because of love, with an aim to save us from a calamity of pain.
King Solomon of old wrote through the inspiration from God in the Proverbs an interesting insight about discipline. In Chapter 3 Solomon says,
“11 My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: 12 For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Proverbs 3:11-12 KJV)
When we are “chastened” by the LORD there is a note of pain and suffering that comes with it. As we move away from His leading and the love He gives us, our conscience sears our heart and we feel the anxiety, emotion and pain associated with our rejecting His nearness. When that suffering is being felt we may or may not immediately associate it with God’s dealing with us. As we continue down that path of resistance and rebellion we continue to feel the tug, but it gets easier to ignore as time passes. As our spirit disengages from God’s Spirit we may recognize our gradual movement away from His love and mercy, but fail to recognize that it is we who are moving away, while He remains stable.
God will start to provide corrective actions in our lives. Even though we hate the correction, if we continue to feel the pain there remains hope for us to return to Him. The Bible says that God is not willing that any of us should perish, but that we should all come back to Him. Even if we get tired of His correction in our rejection, He will continue to send those corrective measures; He will never give up.
There is a parallelism in this passage that has both a father loving his son enough to provide correction, and God as our Heavenly Father loving us so much that He too will provide correction when we are in need of it.
So our being chastened may be painful at the time we are in rebellion, but when we turn again to face the LORD and refrain from doing evil, He welcomes us back with open arms, puts a ring on our finger, a robe on our shoulders and rejoices in our returning home where He accepts us as His child.