Judgment and discipline. I think a lot of times we get confused about which God is doing in our lives, particularly when bad things happen to us. It’s easy to think, “God must be judging and punishing me for what I did.”
But is that how God thinks?
I think in this psalm, we see a distinction between the two. Judgment comes for those who have rejected God, while discipline comes to those who are His own.
In the beginning of this psalm, the psalmist cries out for God’s judgment to come upon the wicked, saying,
Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve. How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? (2-3)
He then talks about all the evil they committed, and how in their hearts, they say, “God doesn’t see all that I’m doing.”
And the psalmist rebukes them saying,
Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise? Does he who fashioned the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge? The Lord knows all human plans; he knows that they are futile. (8-11)
He concludes the psalm by saying of them,
He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness;the Lord our God will destroy them. (23)
But what of those whom God calls his children? How does he deal with their sin? The psalmist writes,
Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law; you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not reject his people; he will never forsake his inheritance. (12-14)
I think there are two things we learn about God’s discipline here. First, it’s meant for our good. God disciplines us to save us from trouble, not bring us into it. Second, no matter how much we fail, God will never reject us. He will never disown us as his children.
More than that, he will stand for us. The psalmist writes,
Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers? Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy. (16-19)
In other words, while the wicked would attack us and accuse us, God will stand up for us. When Satan himself comes to condemn us, God defends us. And so the psalmist writes,
The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death. But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge. (21-22)
So as God’s children, let us never mistake God’s judgment for his discipline. When we sin, God will bring discipline into our lives. But it’s to help us, not to harm us. It’s to save us, not to destroy us. And remember that no matter how much we fall, he will never leave us nor forsake us.