Punishment & Pain Go Hand-In-Hand

Cutting Edge Magazine
March 1992
Tom Terry

The world today is quite different from the one occupied by ancient man. While child abuse obviously existed many centuries ago and continues even now, what abuse is has changed. (At least in the eyes of government.)

What was once considered traditional, effective discipline (spanking), is now thought of by some as a form of abuse. The definition of emotional abuse is also blurry. Because of these changing definitions, an increasing number of parents are finding the need to alter the manner and times of discipline. Afraid to punish a deserving child in the yard or car, parents have resorted to taking the necessary action behind closed doors and away from windows for fear of being “reported” to child protective services as a child abuser.

Biblical discipline includes what modern day psychologists regard as harmful. Proverbs 13:24 advises all parents: “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Punishment—in the biblical vernacular—is part of a demonstration of love. Punishment reminds a short-sighted child that actions have consequences. Just as praise and affection are rewards to the child who does good and gives parents a proud heart, so also the pain of punishment is a deterrent. One encourages right behavior, the other discourages sin.

Any teacher who works with rebellious children knows the value of physical discipline. “Time out” in the corner, doing extra chores, staying after school and other “mild” forms of punishment don’t work for very long. They communicate to the child that a minor hardship might result from wrong actions, that the effects are minimal and worth the risk. Not surprisingly, we’ve transferred our weak methods of discipline with our kids to our justice and prison systems. Prisoners may be confined for their crimes, but they also receive plenty of creature comforts. Too many are released early. Some are let go on small technicalities, perverting justice for the victim. Others, whose crimes include the most gruesome, are allowed to live, having their lives subsidized by taxpayers.

Maybe the problem with growing crime is due in part to our lack of providing stern discipline at an early age. 

No, not maybe.

Some parents are going to face the problem of being accused of child abuse or neglect while never having committed an act of violence. Their method of discipline will be construed to mean something it does not. The child may not like the pain of corporal punishment or a sharp verbal rebuke, but these aren’t designed to feel good. A child doesn’t always understand that at the time of punishment. But he’s not always supposed to. Discipline is for their future as well as their present. As Hebrews 12:11 teaches: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Not everyone disciplines correctly, or with the view toward future benefits for their children. Parents are going to err, sometimes forgetting that a good swat should also be followed with a long and merciful hug. That’s the nature of man. Government intrusion into family affairs won’t make better parents. Only parents who learn from their mistakes can do that.

Some would argue that we need a child protective service. Others would disagree. The increase in the number of abused children is indisputable. But such agencies should not take it upon themselves to redefine appropriate discipline. Instruction for the family should be left to the church—the body best prepared to negotiate family matters with the standard of God’s Word.

Do not fail to discipline your child, even with a spanking. Pain for sin brings back memories of things to be avoided; and that is the ultimate success of corporal punishment—painful memories of sin to avoid that righteousness may flourish.