In the Middle-Ages there have been religious people inflicting pain upon themselves by use of scourges or whips. Apparently Martin Luther while he was a monk also has been doing that kind of thing. It is reported that at times he was on the verge of losing consciousness because of the harsh treatment, he gave himself, and his austere lifestyle.
Those men had a sense of their own inadequacy. They felt keenly that they did not come up to what God demanded of them. They were aware of their own sinfulness.
Possibly they believed that many of the difficulties and problems they were facing were a direct punishment from God because of their sins. This would have enhanced their desire to somehow become acceptable to God.
Asceticism and fasting used to be methods to gain God’s favour. Scourging oneself to some was another way of trying to become pleasing to God. They felt they deserved punishment from God and why not punish themselves.
In this post again I am trying to shed some light on St. Paul’s words: “…and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3b/KJV). Scourging oneself may not be the same as exposing one’s body to flames. Yet both activities have a similar effect in causing pain and perhaps even imperilling life.
Self-inflicted punishment would be an expression of regret about things you have done. Maybe pains will have a refining effect on your views and emotions. Perhaps this will make you a better person. Nevertheless this may not prevent you resort to your old behaviour when having to face newly arising situations or difficulties.
St. Paul’s words here are in line with the teaching of Old Testament prophets. God is not looking for our celebrating religious rites and fasting. He rather wants us to love God and our neighbour. God is looking for changed lives not for pious activities.
Of course this doesn’t answer the question how we could possibly change. Some may feel that this is a standard too high for ordinary man.
When Martin Luther was a monk he was pondering God’s demands and his own perceived inadequacy. At times he used to say he could not really love God.
He gained a new perspective as he came to see that God wanted him to trust in His grace. Not his own deeds were to count. God’s own love and graciousness would make the difference.
In the end of 1 Corinthians 13 St. Paul concludes: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” Trust in God’s grace, experience his love and set your hope on him. This is a God given way to new love and affection in your life.