Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Corporal punishment and the discipline of God

I’ve been thinking about God’s discipline. From experience, I know God’s discipline is painful and sometimes severe, but it is always an expression of the Father’s infinite love for His children. In an era when fewer and fewer parents discipline their children, I wonder if, perhaps, many might balk at the idea of God painfully and severely disciplining His children. I was reared by folks who believed in physical punishment. I know what it means to have a parent “whup yo’ behin’” and even go “upside your head”. Because of that, I have no trouble embracing the biblical teaching about God’s discipline.

Now, don’t even bother to tell me anything about child abuse. I know what child abuse is and, as the recipient of my folks’ occasional physical discipline, I can tell you they did not abuse me. Grandma kept an old, worn-out belt in a kitchen drawer (she called it her “strap”) in the event she needed to dish out a spanking to me or my younger uncle (who is four-and-a-half years older than me). In no way do I believe it was wrong for her to use a belt. That belt never left any welts on anyone. And, yes, I did get slapped upside my head a couple times for talking back (I should have been slapped, in my opinion), but I didn’t suffer a concussion or brain damage, and no bruises were left on my head. In fact, I thank God for the few times I was physically punished. I say few, because, personally, I think I got away with too much. If Grandma and Pa Bill had worked on my behind a little more, or gone upside my head a few more times than they did, I think I would have been better off. Now, I’m aware that there may be some parents who have never used physical punishment in disciplining their children and yet have good, well-behaved and well-mannered children. I’ll admit that a talk and a time out might work with some passive, compliant children, but my experience and observation is that strong-willed, hard-headed children (like I was) need more than a mere talk; they need for a responsible adult to lay hands on them (and not just to pray for them!).

Those of you who might be quick to reject physical punishment as a method of discipline need to deal with Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:14 and 29:15. I am quite skeptical of any interpretation of Scripture that would make “the rod” a metaphor for discipline. I don’t believe such an interpretation is warranted in these verses, other than to appease the overly delicate sensitivities of contemporary Americans and Europeans. If you think I’m being extreme, then I also invite you to think long and seriously about what God said in Romans 1:29-32:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Did you notice that among those deeds that God considers deserving of death is disobedience to parents? Did you see that? Have you ever considered that children and teenagers who disobey their parents deserve death? Think about that! Is God being extreme?

It is an understatement to say God takes our children’s disobedience and disrespect far more seriously than most of us do. We want to give our disobedient children a “time out”; God says they deserve to die. Who’s right: we or God? I say that if we saw our children more like God sees them, many of us wouldn’t be so squeamish about the need to sometimes employ physical punishment in the disciplining of our children. Loving physical punishment is an act of mercy with the goal of saving our children’s souls from a fate far worse than a spanking or a slap.

This is exactly what God does with His children. Sometimes God gives us a “time out”—sets us aside for a season so we can think on our ways—but, God also inflicts pain. How do I know? Because the Bible says discipline is “painful” (Hebrews 12:11). And, I can tell you from experience that God’s discipline hurts; it will make you cry sometimes, even drive you to your knees and make you cry out to Him for mercy. Yes, discipline hurts, but the writer of Hebrews wrote, “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). God is trying to spare our souls from a fate far worse than the temporary pain of a spiritual spanking; He’s trying to save our souls from spiritual death (Hebrews 12:9).

Above all, God disciplines and inflicts pain because He loves His children. A good parent doesn’t spank his children because of hate; a good parent spanks out of love. I didn’t understand that when Grandma was spanking my behind or going upside my head, but after I became a parent I understood well what Grandma was doing. A parent inflicts physical pain upon their child because they understand that their child’s bad behavior and attitude will lead to misery later on in life. We spank because we want to spare our children from unnecessary grief. And, those of us who accept what the Bible says are also trying to save our children from eternal misery. Those sinners mentioned in Romans 1:29-32 not only deserve death here and now, but the text says God’s wrath is already revealed against them (Romans 1:18). They are destined for hell.

Best of all, God’s discipline is proof that I belong to Him. I don’t go around disciplining kids I’m not responsible for. If I see a child acting up in the mall, I don’t grab that child and spank him (though, I might think about it). I discipline my own children, because they belong to me and I’m responsible for them. In a similar way, God disciplines His own children. If you can’t say you’ve ever experienced God’s discipline, you’d better check yourself and make sure you belong to Him. God’s discipline is an evidence that we belong to Him; it is evidence of His love for us. Unlike some irresponsible parents, God doesn’t let His children run wild. Aren’t you glad about that? Aren’t you glad that He loves you enough to forcibly turn you from the way that is not right?

Read the entire passage from Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-11) below, and thank God for His “severe mercy” towards you:

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. 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.

1 comment:

Jane Steen said...

Great post, Wyeth. As a hard-headed, willful kid who would do ANYTHING to get her own way, I deserved every punishment I ever got! So I don't fail to spot a "whuppin'" when God gives me one.

I worry about the people we're turning out who have never known discipline and are therefore unable to discipline themselves or accept it from people in authority. Like it or not, in real life sometimes you've just got to do things you don't want to do. I think that part of a parent's job is to get that through.