Today’s reading: Hebrews 12
Chapter 12 starts with another great and poetic verse of scripture:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
The “cloud of witnesses” refers directly to the litany of the great Old Covenant figures listed in chapter 11. However, by implication, it also refers to all those likewise great figures who are to come. The fact that the author says that “we are surrounded” suggest that these witnesses are still alive in heaven. He wants us to follow their example and “lay aside every weight and sin”. Further, he says, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us”. This is a metaphor used by St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7 and is further evidence that Paul is the author of Hebrews. Finally, notice that the author alludes to the purpose of suffering. It is to be passed through and joy is received on the other side.
The author then picks up on this theme and elaborates further:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
So it seems that suffering is a form of discipline. We, of course, know that discipline is what produces good results. We discipline our children to learn right from wrong. Athletes discipline themselves to become better performers. Military’s have discipline so they can fight effectively. So suffering is allowed with a goal in mind. That goal is our perfection.
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11
Importantly, and in contrast to the understanding of our Protestant brothers, this is not just a “legal declaration” of our righteousness but are actual perfection.
…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, Hebrews 12:22-24
This makes sense for is salvation was just God declaring us righteous there would be no need for suffering. In fact, one could argue that if salvation what a legal declaration of our righteousness it would be wrong for God to continue to allow suffering as it would be serving no purpose. However, because we are actually being “made perfect”, suffering retains its value as that discipline described above.
Tomorrow: Hebrews 13