Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Corporal Punishment: A spiritual issue

I believe the Scriptures are clear that corporal punishment—the “rod” of discipline—is one of the options that parents have at their disposal in order to discipline their children (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; 29:15). In my previous post on this topic, I said, “Considered against the background of God’s justice, we see that corporal punishment is God’s merciful means to deliver a child’s soul from death”, and “is an act that demonstrates a parent’s love for the child’s soul.”

There’s something else that comes to mind. It occurs to me that if parents abandon corporal punishment, their children will be ill-equipped to understand God’s discipline. In Hebrews 12:5-10, the writer makes a connection between a parent’s discipline of a child and God’s discipline of His people:

“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. 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.”

I believe the writer has what we would call corporal punishment in mind for, notice, he writes, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant…” (Hebrews 12:11a, emphasis mine). Corporal punishment causes pain. I believe the pain of God’s discipline is more understandable to those who have experienced the pain of their parents’ “rod” of discipline. On the other hand, if we view corporal punishment as harsh and abusive, won’t we likely view God’s discipline as harsh and abusive, also? If we think that parents have no right to ever strike their children as a punishment for disobedience, won’t we also think that God has no right to inflict pain on us because of our disobedience? Here’s something else to think about: If we don’t understand corporal punishment (or capital punishment, for that matter), can we really understand hell?

Here’s the basis of my concern: From my observation of teenagers over the past 14-15 years, I’m concerned that today’s parents are raising up a generation who will have no understanding or regard for a God who disciplines His people or sends the rebellious to hell. Some of you who follow trends in evangelicalism already know there are those who call themselves evangelical who already embrace these unbiblical ideas about God. Ultimately, I see the issue of whether or not we accept corporal punishment as a legitimate method of child discipline as a spiritual issue.
In the final analysis, I do not think a sound case can be built against corporal punishment from the Bible. In fact, I suspect that those who oppose corporal punishment have been influenced more by secular psychology than by the word of God. They say that corporal punishment serves no good purpose, but God’s word says they’re wrong. God says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom …” (Proverbs 29:15a). And, the writer of Hebrews says, “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, emphasis mine). Scripture makes it clear that corporal punishment, like God’s discipline, produces good fruit in a child’s life, if administered in love, with a view towards saving the child’s soul.

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