Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

I'm sure that we've all heard this saying before.  It's the catch-phrase for those who advocate physical disciplining of children.  In the book of Proverbs, chapter 13, verse 24, it says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”  So, if I don't use physical discipline on my child I hate them?  Pretty strong words, but it certainly seems that that's what this verse says - and that is how it has been taught for quite some time.  There are now many “Christian” programs that not only advocate spanking (some go far beyond spanking and have guidelines for choosing a proper instrument to hit your child with and exactly when to use it), but they go so far as saying that you are not in God's will if you don't spank.  Hmmm.

I've got to be up front with you and tell you that I've never been one to accept things at face value - especially when it comes to the Scriptures.  I don't believe that there is any one translation of the Bible that is superior to the others, although some are worse than others.  I do believe that in translating the original texts (written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) some of the original intent has been lost because English simply doesn't have the range or color in our definitions for certain words.  Two words that I believe have suffered terribly from this lack of understanding the original intent are “rod” and “discipline.”

In the twenty-third Psalm we can find the same Hebrew word for “rod” being used as in the above-reference Proverb - “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”  Now I don't know about you, but if someone was beating me with a rod I don't believe I'd feel comforted by it.  Actually, a shepherd's rod and staff were used to guide his sheep and keep them safe.  A good shepherd would never, ever, beat his sheep.  Period.

Now, the word “discipline” is one that doesn't mean to beat, but means to warn, instruct, or correct.  To discipline one's self is to train yourself in a desired behavior or pattern of thought, for example.  To discipline a child is to train them in the way that you would have them go, which brings me to another Proverb.

Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it. - Proverbs 22:6 (Amplified).  I love this verse.  We are to train our children according to their individual gift or bent.  The problem with this is that it takes time and dedication on the parent's part.  It takes us getting to know our child.  It takes us spending time with our child and learning who that little person is, then learning how best to nurture, love, and raise that child so s/he will have the best chance at being the person God created them to be.  It really is just easier to whip out the spatula and administer a smack to the backside rather than try to crawl into your child's mind when they're melting down, hitting their sibling, or pulling the cat's tail.  But I've never known God's way to be easy.

And speaking of God, what's all this spanking (or as some practice it, ritualized beating) doing to our children's view of God?  Some would say that the fear of the Lord has to be instilled in our children.  This is another unfortunate misunderstanding in the translation.  Fear of the Lord doesn't mean that we are to be afraid of God, but that we are to love Him so very much that we want to please Him.  Just a bit of a difference, no?

As Christians, as disciples of Christ (or ones who should be disciplining themselves to live as Christ did), we are supposed to be living in such a way that we are representing the character of God accurately, to our children, to our families, to anyone we come in contact with.  So, does all this spanking in the name of God bring our children closer to God or set up a barrier that could take years to overcome - if ever?  And how are we supposed to know what God's character is so that we can portray Him correctly?

Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. - John 14:6-10

In the above passage we read that Jesus told His disciples that if they have seen Him they have seen the Father; that if they know Jesus they know the Father.  So, our example to follow in order to accurately portray the character of God is Jesus.  I would now challenge you to find any instance in the Gospels where Jesus physically hits anyone - child or adult.  Yes, He gets plenty annoyed and gets physical in the Temple when He overturns the tables of the money changers and those selling animals.  If you'll notice, when He is dealing with His disciples and others who are looking to Him in the truth of who He is - the Messiah - He may correct and be firm with them, but He was always understanding and dealt with them in the way that they need to be dealt.  And when it came to children?

People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. - Mark 10:13-14

Jesus always welcomed and blessed children.  He even warns us not to hinder them in their coming to the Lord.  So if we spank our children, telling them that God is the One who wants us to do that, do you really think that they are going to want to run to God as their Father?  Somehow, I don't think so.  In fact, you can probably see the fruit of this teaching in many churches today.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard Christians, pastors included, say words to the effect that God is simply waiting for us to make a mistake so He can whack us upside the head with a two by four.  Again I would challenge you to show me where Jesus ever did this to one of His followers, or God forbid, to a child.

While God's way is never the easy way, I would have to say that it's the best way - even when we might not understand or like it; even when it doesn't line up with what we may have been taught.  Parenting is all about love, frustration, joy, heartbreak, and lots and lots of prayer - lots of prayer!  Let God use you to lead your child into His Kingdom rather than turn him away.  Get to know your child and enjoy the journey!!

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