What is happening?
The Liberal government of Canada has said they would repeal the spanking law Section 43 as part of implementing The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. I want to clear up exactly what the Bible says about spanking as I have seen many simplistic interpretations of verses that don’t take them in context or apply other basic Biblical principles. Many people online are trying to interpret the Bible without first understanding Biblical basics. This always leads to getting the answer the person wanted before they started researching what the Bible says about a topic. I am not going to link to scripture to back up everything I say because I want to get to the point about how this all applies to spanking. If there are a lot of people that would benefit from the supporting scripture for something I will be happy to link to it and/or discuss it more.
To start with lets talk about the fundamental truth of the versions of the Bible that have the Gospels. The Bible is about Jesus Christ, his birth, death and resurrection and how that can impact us. In birth he showed us that he understands us and wants to be intimate with us. Living here he modeled how we should live in right relationship with the Father. He lived and operated out of a place of dependence, trust, humility and authority. In death he received the punishment for our sins against God, ourselves and others. This allows us to have a solution for a guilty conscience and to receive eternal life that starts now. Jesus came to fulfill the Law. The Law is the cause and effect system that God has created the universe with. It says that if a person does x, y will happen. In overcoming death Jesus gave everyone a hope that can never be taken from us. All of this means that we now know how to live under grace instead of the downward spiral of sin. God says that we need to accept grace by repenting and having faith in His ability to redeem us. Repenting involves changing our mindset about our sin in response to the conviction of a guilty conscience. If we repent and have faith that God will redeem us then we have eternal life starting now and continuing forever in heaven. If we are not in a state of true repentance when God’s judgement comes upon us then we receive eternal punishment in hell.
The First Tricky Part
Great, so nobody has to receive any punishment now that Jesus died right? Yes, if everyone chooses grace through repentance and faith… That is fantastic news! The sad news is that not everyone will choose that path. Many people misinterpret the Bible to say that God has only grace for people. That clearly misrepresents God’s actions throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and the New Testament. This belief is common because it would allow us to not have to make any difficult decisions about others or ourselves. We could just always over look sin and stick to the interactions that make us comfortable.
Punishment vs. Discipline
The next topic that people get stuck on is wherever the Bible talks about Discipline. There are at least two types of consequences in the Bible that have distinctly different meanings. Discipline means to instruct someone in a certain way. A disciple is someone learning from someone else to live a certain way. Discipline’s purpose is to teach and enable a person to grow and mature. Most of the time maturing requires painful consequences as it says in Romans 5. When spanking is not appropriate there is still a need for other consequences that distress the child when they have done wrong.
Punishment is simply to enforce the fact that a person did something wrong. It is meant to be a deterrent and/or a protection. Jail is at least some deterrent for people not to commit crime but is also a protection for those not in jail. Jail often doesn’t help people grow and mature. That is because while punishment for crime is necessary, it is not sufficient to bring about true repentance. It says in the Bible that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance not his punishment. However, in Romans 1 there is an example of what happens when a people refuse to repent. That is when the Law kicks in. It says that “God gave them over to their shameful lusts”. That means he stopped graciously trying to prevent them from experiencing the consequences of their sin and just gave satan full access to them for a season. The Bible says the Law shows us our need for God. If God were to only apply grace to every situation that wouldn’t be loving because it would prevent people from being able to see the consequences of their sin. It would also mean that he doesn’t protect others from our sinfulness which he does frequently.
Now to tie it all together..
Now we can interpret the popularly referenced Proverbs 13:24 verse and think about what it really means. I read on the globeandmail that this verse is talking about gently guiding sheep with a rod type of discipline.
“The one who will not use the rod hates his son, but the one who loves him disciplines him diligently.”
Right away we would know that since the verse is talking about disciplining someone it is talking about anything that is constructive for their growth. But in Proverbs 23:13-14 it clearly shows what form of instruction it is talking about.
“13 Don’t withhold discipline from a youth;
if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.
14 Strike him with a rod,
and you will rescue his life from •Sheol.”
That alone would be enough to show that when Proverbs talks about a rod they are probably not talking about gently guiding sheep! Nobody ever questioned whether gently guiding a sheep with a shepherds staff would kill the sheep! But taken into context that the standard path that God takes his followers on throughout the Bible is filled with suffering and death… yes God expects us as parents to discipline our children in ways that are often painful.
Spanking can certainly be a form of constructive discipline as the verse says but it can also be an important form of punishment if the child is not repentant. This is the default and not the rule. Like almost everything in the Bible there are exceptions based on relationship. God made lots of exceptions and so should we. Colossians 3:21 says “Fathers,do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged.” There is such a thing as too much discipline and certainly too much punishment. As Christ followers we need to have the mindset like David to seek God’s judgments. God’s judgments bring life and not death because they come out of a heart of love. When we as parents are motivated by love then our kids will feel that and mature accordingly as they are able. Till they are able, they will know that we still want to be connected with them even though we have to dish out discipline and punishment from time to time to guide them.
Exceptions to the Default
Some common exceptions to the default that I can think of are
-highly sensitive children
-adopted/foster children or any other previously abused child
-kids that are struggling with violence more than normal
In those types of cases there will still need to be some form of consequence and punishment. These children will need extra grace and connection in order to have the resources required to mature. In any case involving a skewed understanding of physical violence, all discipline and punishment should not be physical in nature. While I do think that spanking can be effective, I have learned that there are other forms of discipline which can be more effective. “The Well Behaved Child” by John Rosemund is an excellent resource for creative non-spanking ways to discipline a child that have proven more effective in my experience. His ways are no less painful, but different.
Thanks for reading!