Naturally, we have fear to thank for obedience. The father of fear could be called pain, but the concept of punishment works better in my opinion because punishment denotes negative causation for a conscious action. In short, pain can just happen, while punishment is something earned from a cognitive decision.
Therefore, punishment is the gift of life, usually, and most naturally, learned through pain. If I touch a red hot stove, I will learn to avoid red hot stoves thanks to the painful punishment of being burnt. If I eat spoiled meat, I will learn to avoid spoiled meat thanks to the painful reaction of my stomach. Punishment can also be received emotionally. If I mock someone, I can learn to be more mindful of his feelings through the guilt born in me by his tears (or his fist). Finally, if I rebel against my father, I will learn to obey through his correcting discipline. This is the lesson all have been shown, but not all have learned.
Life has displayed this lesson to everyone. Cuts, bruises, burns and broken bones linger on as reminders to be careful, watch your step, look both ways, chew your food, etc. As I live, I learn to live less painfully, some might say because I’ve grown wiser, but the honest truth is that it’s because I’ve grown more fearful.
But why the negative connotation with being fearful? When did self-preservation become a point of weakness? I have no idea, but literature seems to paint it in a poor light … always. The Hero is the fearless one. The self-sacrificing one. The coward is … the one who tells his story. The survivor. Hmmm. Oh, but Mrs. Linville just made a great point. She defends the Hero as not being fearless, but an overcomer of fear, which is often perceived as fearlessness. Looking closely, I could even argue that the Hero overcomes whatever terrifying circumstances confront her because of something that she fears happening even more. Thinking about it, I see how fear could possibly be humanity’s greatest motivation for doing anything (Mrs. Linville: “yeah, good or bad”).
Nevertheless, the Bible clearly encourages being fearful. That is, being fearful of the most fearsome. God.
Deuteronomy 10:20 plainly says: “You shall fear the LORD your God.” Such verses span across all of Scripture. Why? Because God is terrifying. God is the enveloping definition of fear because God is absolute holiness. Entirely separated from what I instinctively desire; before God I would be utterly obliterated. Nevertheless, I am His, and He will have me in His presence. The only way that this is possible is for me to be perfect. I am light eons away from perfect. I need Jesus Christ. He is perfect. In fact, His perfection is God’s perfection. He is God. In Jesus Christ, I am saved … from Jesus Christ. He will judge the nations, meaning He will judge me. To stand before Him without Him, outside Him, against Him, is to know perfect fear. Perfect in the sense that it will be complete, whole, finished. There is no learning from this fear. It is the quintessence of finality.
God made a way for us to Himself in Jesus Christ. He is punishment’s remedy. In Him, no longer do my actions earn me death. In Him, I know joy in the presence of God. In Him, the presence of God is paradise.
The way is not easy. God is a loving Father, even to His most rebellious sons (including yours truly). For this reason, He punishes me. He appeals to the instinctive mechanism that moves me in the most primal way: towards the response of avoiding or pursuing. He disciplines because He loves.
Hebrews 12:7-11 is pretty clear about this, saying:
“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. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 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.”
All obedience is a gift. It is the gift of life.