Guest Blogger: Smooth: A Theology of Discipline
[My younger brother, Smooth, recently found himself in some difficult and overwhelming circumstances where he was forced to work out his own “theology of discipline.” Below are some of his conclusions that I thought everyone out there in the blogosphere might benefit from, especially you parents. He gave me his permission.]
“Let me first preface all of this by saying that we (my wife Kelly and I) are not perfect. We do make mistakes, but I can honestly say that neither of us have ever practiced corporeal punishment while angry. If ever I am angry or overly frustrated with Cana (our 2-year old daughter) for something she has done, we use time out. In fact, time out is the primary form of punishment and discipline that we use. We do believe, however, that there are some situations that call for corporeal punishment. We are also not necessarily criticizing other views. But this is the one we have chosen as we have sought God on it.
“We have chosen this view not just because it works but also because we believe it is biblical. So our beliefs about child rearing are very much rooted in our theology – our beliefs about God, who He is, and what He requires. In the Old Testament, the concept of discipline is closely tied with correction and instruction. It is not just for mere punishment, but when you discipline someone the idea is to correct wrongdoing and instruct them in the way that is right. In the New Testament, the literal meaning of correction is to set upright. The idea is that correcting someone is actually the setting upright of something that has fallen. Furthermore, the word is used in the sense of making someone conform to a standard. You see, as human beings we bear the image of God (imago dei – Gen 1:26). Among other things, I believe this means that God has created human beings to reflect his image and his workings in everyday things. In other words, many of the things God requires us to do as his people act as analogies of a grander scheme. For instance, the New Testament tells us that the marriage relationship is a reflection of Christ’s relationship to the Church.
“Okay, so what does any of this have to do with corporeal punishment? God has held humankind to a standard. That standard is perfection. God is perfect and expects people to be perfect (Matt. 5:48). Obviously, no one can reach this standard, which is why Scripture says that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard’ (Rom. 3:23). That’s why Jesus came. He lived perfectly according to that standard and then died a death He didn’t deserve. Since He had no sin to pay for, He was paying the penalty for our sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Now those who accept the gift that Christ gave us become children of God and heirs of his inheritance: eternal life (Rom. 8:17,Gal. 3:26). As God’s children we now strive to live according to God’s standards not to gain favor with Him, but because we love Him. Likewise, God seeks to help us live according to those standards because it is what is just and it is what is best. He does so by correcting us, instructing us, disciplining us. You see, it’s not about punishment, or inflicting pain. It is about setting upright someone who has fallen, and helping us conform to his standard.
“Therefore, our purpose as parents when we discipline our children is not simply about punishment. In discipline, our job as parents is to properly reflect the image of a loving God who lovingly corrects his children. This idea is supported by Scripture. Deuteronomy 8:5 states that ‘as a man disciplines his son, so God disciplines you.’ So we have set up standards that we believe are biblical standards, and whenever our children fall short of these standards our job is to lovingly discipline them, correct them, and instruct them in the way that is right. That is why whenever we discipline Cana with corporeal punishment or timeout or whatever, we always have a discussion with her about why she is being disciplined and what she should do to avoid being punished in the future. We are not just punishing her; we are correcting her and instructing her. We are not disciplining her because we are the boss and she is not, but because this is the standard set up by God, and we properly reflect the divine work of God when we do. God disciplines us because he loves us (Prov. 3:12, Rev. 3:19), and we discipline our children because we love them.
“That being said, our next step was to look to Scripture in order to see how that discipline ought to be carried out. In the much quoted passage Proverbs 13:24, Scripture tells us that ‘he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.’ The word rod here is the rod of remedial punishment. It does not mean that one must punish his children with an actual rod, but does mean firm corporeal punishment. In fact, the parent who refrains from this type of discipline actually hates his child because verses 14-18 have already revealed that the end of this path is death, social ruin, public exposure, calamity, and shameful poverty. Therefore, if a parent turns his back on his child by not firmly disciplining him, he must really hate him because he is potentially sending his child down this path. Hebrews 12:7 tells us to ‘endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you like sons.’ So it would seem that hardship is God’s form of physical discipline. Prov. 22:15 reveals that ‘folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.’ You might think that we are being irresponsible by practicing corporeal punishment, but according to Scripture we are irresponsible if we do not.”