At first glance, it may seem as though the words “hurt” and “harm” are synonyms. We may even carelessly use them interchangeably. Yet there is a huge difference, a moral and ethical immeasurable distance between these two words.
Both may involve pain, discomfort, and some measure of suffering. Both are experiences which we naturally avoid, if possible. So wherein lies the difference?
Return with me for a moment to days long past when, as a result of your behavior, a parent had to administer discipline. Recall that often used phrase they frequently began with: “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” The first thing to observe is that your parent knew that what was going to follow would hurt you. But it was not your parent’s intention to harm you. In fact, just the opposite is the case; there was awareness that failure to discipline would carry the greatest harm to your childhood development. Correction out of love does actually hurt a parent. When discipline is done in anger or frustration, there is little hurt to the parent. While there may be a sense of satisfaction to the parent, there is actually both hurt and harm to the child. We call this “child abuse” in today’s vernacular.
Likewise, God, as a faithful and loving Father, chastens us at times (Heb 12:5-11). The chastening may hurt, but it is never intended to harm. For the present, it may indeed hurt (Heb 12:11). But God has something far better in mind for us than the temporary discomfort. He is working for our good, both in this life, and for eternity. Chastening comes in several forms: the uneasiness we experience as we sit under the ministry of the Word of God as it unfolds the lack of progress we have made in becoming more Christlike; the smitten conscience as we read the Word of God, alone in our private devotions. Then there are the unpleasant events in life which come either directly or indirectly from His hand. All are intended to “hurt” but never to harm. David had to own, looking back on His experiences with God, “Thy gentleness hath made me great” (Psa 18:35). He “hurts” but He never “harms.”
What of our treatment of each other? When we are being faithful, as we call it, with an errant brother or sister, is our motive to hurt or to harm? A good barometer would be how you felt after you carried out your task. Did you feel vindicated, empowered, good, or relieved to “get it off your chest”? Did it feel “good” to say or do what you had to do? If it does not hurt you, then you probably have caused harm rather than hurt. God the Father “hurts” but never “harms.” We should not be guilty of “spiritual sibling abuse.”