Saturday, February 21, 2009

What is Discipline?

Molly's comments have made me consider again the importance of discipline, particularly in the form of punishment. Is it Biblical? Is it loving? What is its purpose? What happens when it is not done?

Molly, I will say that I feel that your rendering of the proverb mentioned is stretching the text a bit. I dislike it when people take a piece of Scripture and rework it in such a way that they diametrically change the very intent of the text itself. I know that your desire is to understand the text, but I feel that you are restricting it to meet the conditions of your parenting philosophy. Instead, our philosophies must conform themselves to Scripture. That text says plainly, to me, that corporal punishment is important, that in fact it has redemptive qualities. In other words, it can change a person's behavior and turn them from the road leading to hell and destruction. In no way was the other commenter (who happens to be my husband) saying that Christ's saving blood is unnecessary.

So, I want to look more closely at God's discipline of His children. That verse, Prov. 23: 13/14 is a good starting place: "Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him ("smite him") with the rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from Sheol."

First: basic principles. Is corporal punishment encouraged here? Yes.
Is the absence of corporal punishment in a child's life damaging? Yes.
Does this punishment help to turn the child from destructive ways? Yes.

Now, corporal punishment is not the only way, or even always the best way, of punishing a child, or helping instill discipline (eventually self-discipline) in him. It is just one way. It is not for small babies. It works best on young children. If you use it effectively and properly, you shouldn't need it for your teenagers.

Let's look at some other verses:
Hebr. 12:5-13 I'm not going to type out this entire passage, but I'd strongly encourage you to read it. Here is some of it: "... you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines and He scourges every son whom He receives.' ...God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children....We had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them...He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness....To those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness."

This passage refers to an earlier passage in Job, the man punished by God - chastised by him VERY physically - perhaps more than any man.
Job 5: 17 - "Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For He inflicts pain, and gives relief; He wounds and His hands also heal."

From these verses we learn that punishment is harsh, painful, and irksome. It is also done in wisdom and love, with a goal toward change and healing. It produces righteousness and peace. God uses harsh discipline on his children so regularly that it is clear it is an excellent, useful and necessary method.

But is all this Scripture merely metaphorical? Can't we just correct with our words, and dispense with actual physical punishment?

No. God doesn't, and neither should we. God tells us how to live, but we are, in our natures, disobedient (as our children are) and fallen (as they are), and we do not listen to mere words, even God's words! It is lovely when we do! It is lovely when our children do! But often we need physical, demonstrable pain to force us to comply. We're stubborn. Our children are too. (But of course, that all goes back to how we view children, or humans in general, which is worldview stuff. Perhaps that is where we differ.)

Another proverb: Prov. 3:11,12 - "My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord, or loathe His reproof, for whom the LORD loves He reproves, even as a father, the son in whom he delights."

Again, this punishment and severity comes not from anger, or hate, or desire to control. None of those are mentioned. It comes from love and delight. God knows for us, as we know for our children, that real happiness is found in obedience and conformity to righteousness. Punishment is evidently a great tool in producing that, according to the Scriptures.

I could spend hours on Job and the severity of his trials, of God's delay, of his feelings of aloneness. I could spend even longer describing God's scourging of me in order to change me (on the inside, not superficially) to what He wants.

And I do think that's the core issue here. Who must conform, the parent or the child? Who knows best, the parent or the child? And why do Christian parents reject principles that are so clear in Scripture? I think there is real fear of not using this principle correctly, but that doesn't mean that we can neglect it instead. If this principle is used so frequently by God on His own children, for their good, can we safely reject it in our own parenting? No.

Please don't misinterpret my post here as advocating spanking children for petty things, in anger, for control, or even on a very frequent basis. We should use this carefully and wisely because it CAN be misused. The purpose of corporal punishment is not to do physical damage, but to cause a heart change. If this were not possible, God wouldn't do it. It's not the only way He causes our hearts to change, but it is certainly one way. To deny that is to deny Scripture.


  1. I don't think it was stretching the text. I think I was just trying to figure out what the original hearers would have heard. Here are some problems:

    1. They didn't have such a thing as the American-style spanking in their heads (they would have either heard "beat him with the rod" to mean a punitive style full on beating with a thick rod, or as a metaphor for parental authority). There was NO SUCH THING as an American style spanking at this time (check it out via history).

    2. They didn't have Hell (flaming lake of fire for eternity) in their heads. Sheol was the place where *all* the dead went, and was also a word used for the grave.

    3. They didn't have young children in mind when they heard that verse.

    So to use the verse to mean any of those above things is to stretch the text.

    Discipline can have redemptive qualities, absolutely. 100% absolutely. But discipline is not what actually changes hearts. If it were, then there would be no need for Christ. The Law would have worked on us just fine.

    You can believe all the things you said, such as how corporal punishment must be used, and must be used on young children, etc, but this verse should not be used as a proof-text to support that position.

    Punishment can bring about change, but only temporary change. The story of Israel testifies to that, over and over and over. Judges does a great job of it. Punishment does *not* bring about any lasting change. This is why God sent His Son.

    Anyways, I'm sure that we probably won't agree. Just wanted to say my piece. :) See you around,

  2. MK ~ I don't feel led to jump into the conversation, but wanted to tell you I've really enjoyed your posts on the topic of parenting in general, and discipline in particular, as well as the give and take in comments. How refreshing! Thanks for sharing your heart.


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