There’s much to be learned from Hebrews 12:5-11. This passage is a common enough proof text for spanking discussions, but if we’re not careful, we can miss some foundational truths that help guide our discipline decisions. Two truths stand out:
First, the end goal of God’s chastening is found in verses ten and eleven: that we might be partakers of God’s holiness, and that we might have the fruit of righteousness in our lives. We could say that the goal of God’s discipline is to be like Christ, our human example of holiness and righteousness. Just as God uses a variety of methods to cultivate the fruit of righteousness in our lives, so we should be carefully watching for evidence of changed beliefs, desires, and actions. If we do not see these results over a period of time, it may be appropriate to reassess our discipline methods. On the other hand, if a toddler is responding spiritually to a gentle tap on the diaper, why should we inform the mother she’s doing it wrong?
Second, and I believe significant in the spanking debate, is that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous.” Not every teaching opportunity is going to be grievous, but some will be. If I attempt to eliminate all displeasure from my discipline, I demonstrate I do not understand discipline from God’s perspective. The other day, my four year old hit his sister out of anger. Knowing that I must reach his heart, show him the gospel and his need for God’s gift of repentance, I started a valiant attempt to follow Ted Tripp’s pattern in Shepherding a Child’s Heart. It was a profitable discussion (not merely a lecture), and as I started winding down, David leaned over, smiled up at me, and gave an energetic hug. I suspected he was hoping to avoid any unpleasantness that might follow our discussion, and I made the choice to send him back to play. Long pause. I’m not certain, but I think my motive was a desire to avoid anything unpleasant. After all, I reached his heart, didn’t I? But God clearly indicates his chastening includes unpleasant elements. If I consider the bird’s eye view of all the discipline my children will ever receive, they should receive unpleasant chastening. (Please note I’m not even considering at this point what that chastening should be, and I do understand that “just talking” is a fine teaching tool.) Next time hopefully I’ll look at the situation through God’s eyes and not my own human understanding.