Before you read anything below, please understand that nothing I have written is to be taken as a declaration of dogma but simply my current rambling meditations as I go on my parenting journey. I am open and willing to consider other viewpoints and would love constructive interaction. I know that I do not have it all figured out and I know that I am doing all kinds of things wrong every single day.
Feel free to agree or disagree, let me know or not. If it helps you, that’s great. If not, well, I hope you find something else that does.
What I have written below is some of what I currently believe in a quite disorganized (and perhaps incoherent, definitely incomplete) form but I needed to write it down even if I don’t have time to write it perfectly and have it edited perfectly. I pray that God will have mercy on all of us parents whatever we end up doing in our day-to-day practice.
Where I’m Coming From
I grew up being spanked and until I had children of my own I fully planned to spank them as I believed the Bible required. My husband also believed the same. After personal examination of the Bible over a few years, my husband and I and various friends (some of them online friends whom I’ve never even met), almost all of whom started off studying assuming that spanking was biblical and required by God, separately came to the same conclusion: that while it may be possible to use spanking as a tool in Christian parenting, it is not a biblical requirement. Some of us are still working on detailed papers with all the passages and proofs.
Meanwhile, I think these sites are valuable resources.
- Parenting Freedom
While I do not agree with every single thing on this page, the sections called “Is Spanking Really in the Bible?” and “Child (Na’ar) in Proverbs” and the sections about the rod are very helpful, well-researched, and well-thought out.
- Get Off Your Butt Parenting
Get off your butt parenting! Sometimes, spanking is just plain lazy parenting. I love this site!
- Mothering By Grace
A site with a lot of information about Christian positive parenting.
What Is The Real Question?
Let me make it clear that my main contention is not with spanking per se but the attitude or misplaced emphasis of truths that seems to accompany it in certain conservative Christian circles. To spank or not to spank is not really the central question at all. Spanking is a side issue in the larger topic of parenting, and how we parent is part of the even larger issue of what we believe about who God is and how He relates to us.
Here are the questions I believe are more relevant to the broader issue.
- What does it mean to have authority? Lording it over those under us? Ministering unto them patiently?
- How do we primarily view our own children? Precious lambs and covenantal children of God? Vipers in diapers whose sin needs to be stomped out?
- How do we want our children to primarily view God? Sinners in the hand of an angry God? Young lambs in the hand of a tender, protective shepherd?
There is so much to be said about authority and so many conflicting views. I think Jesus summarizes it perfectly here.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
Those with God-given authority (parents, pastors, etc.) are abusing their authority unless they are serving, literally, being like slaves to those who they have authority over. As parents, that does not just mean holding down a job and coming home with a paycheck, doing the laundry and cooking, it means serving them instead of lording it over them in every area of our interaction with them.
Shepherding & Rods, Wrath & Comfort
To be a parent, to be a shepherd, we need to understand the weaknesses of those under us, be patient with them, and love them unconditionally and self-sacrificially. A shepherd serves the sheep, guides them to water and pasture, and protects them from predators.
The shepherd does not use the rod against his flock. He uses it to protect the flock from predators. That is why it is so comforting. I have seen dogs who flinch at the sight of a rolled-up newspaper, even if they are with a new owner who has never abused them. I have seen children who flinch in fear when their parents simply raise a hand to put their hair behind their ears. Yes, it is good to have a healthy fear of God. But I do not think a healthy fear means living in constant fear of His wrath. Healthy fear should be overshadowed by assurance of unconditional love.
Children should know that God is full of wrath against unrighteousness. But they should also know that He is full of love towards those who repent. When they sin, they should have more remorse because it saddens Him than fear of His wrath against them for sinning.
Physical beatings do not usually fill children with remorse. It can change their behaviour to what you demand, it can make them compliant to your will (or “obedient” if you prefer). But it often fills them with helplessness and terror, and rage born of that fear, none of which they can express because they are too afraid of the beating they will get if they express it.
If shepherds beat their lambs on their backs with those big rods, there would be mass lamb slaughter, not flocks full of obedient lambs. How often does God beat us for all the things we do wrong every day? How often does He give us what we deserve?
Are They Elect?
So, are our children primarily precious little lambs or vipers in diapers? I know that the question is setting up a false dichotomy because both are true to a degree but where we place our emphasis on what they are is important and will affect how we relate to them. I definitely do believe in original sin. However, at the same time, as a covenantal paedocommunionist, I believe that when God placed children into our families, He did so trusting us to treat them as little believers, precious lambs of God, already saved, presumed elect unless proven otherwise.
Focus & Emphasis: Cross or Resurrection? Death or Life? Sin or Forgiveness? Fear or Assurance?
Supposing children are elect, when they sin, instead of focusing primarily on the sin itself and God’s hatred of it, what needs to be emphasized is God’s love and forgiveness and how He welcomes sinners always, anywhere, anytime. When speaking of Jesus, instead of focusing on His death on the cross because of our sin, what needs to be emphasized is His resurrection, His love for us and His power over sin and death, how He is with us all the time, everywhere, and has given us His Spirit to indwell us.
God invites us into His House week after week to tell us that He loves us. He wants us to come to Him, eat with Him, make our peace with Him. No matter what we have done, He welcomes us with open arms and forgives us every time we ask for it.
No matter how we treat Him, He is faithful every day. He shows us the wild glory and beauty of the sun and the rain, the wind and the snow, the moon and the stars, and every night we go to bed never doubting that the sun will rise in the morning because He loves us constantly, consistently, unwaveringly.
I believe that is how we should treat our children. We should treat them so they want to come to us no matter what they have done. They should have full and complete assurance that we love them no matter what they have done. There is something wrong if children hesitate to approach their parents because they think they might get a beating.
Presenting God To Children
Our children are born trusting and loving us. That is how God created them to be. He gave us to them to show who He is through how we treat them. When children misbehave, we need to tell them about God’s love and remind them of the Cross and Resurrection, remind them of the Body and the Blood. We as parents misbehave and disobey God every single day. We fall short every single day. God does not “spank” us daily for our infractions. That is not how He loves us.
When I think about how God loves us from day to day, it seems to me that he covers our sins and forgives us of them before we even repent or realize them and embraces us lovingly from day to day.
God & His Smitings
In the last few years, I’ve seen adults treat each other unspeakably terribly countless times, I’ve seen parents mistreat their children, I’ve seen pastors abuse their flocks, all these things justified using the name of God, and God seems to do nothing about it. He is patient with them. He is gentle. I wish He’d zap them with lightning or maybe open the earth and swallow them whole, or at least strike them with some kind of non-serious, temporary disease, but no, they walk around every day in fine health and continue to do these things.
If children are spanked for every infraction, does that teach them who God really is? Does that teach them about how the world works? I used to think so. I’m not so sure anymore. When I was a child, I thought God was waiting up in heaven with handfuls of punishments just waiting to be hurled down on people. Then I grew up and kept waiting for Him to punish people, squash them, humiliate them, or at the very least stop them from hurting other people … and it just hardly EVER happens.
Welcoming The Prodigal
I think many Christians would follow the kind of advice Dave Ramsey (whom I truly admire, by the way) dispenses on his radio show to parents of prodigals: turn them away and let them figure things out on their own. After all, he squandered his entire inheritance, presumably on wine, women, and song.
In Jesus’ story, the parable He told us to teach us how to treat our children, the father of the prodigal son did not spurn or curse him. He could have been a good ol’ American dad and shown his son some tough love and turned him away to teach him a lesson. He could have put him on trial at the gate with the elders and have them condemn him to a public beating as was his right as a Jewish father. But what he did was run to his son with open arms and welcome him and kill the fatted calf and throw a feast for him.
That is how God loves us, day after day. If Jesus tells us it was good for the father to welcome his horrible prodigal son that way, what does that mean for us? None of our young children sin as horribly as the prodigal did.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 ESV
In many situations with children, I think a hug and a good, long talk is more appropriate than a spanking. Or for young babies (under age 2, for example), a nursing is usually more appropriate than a spanking.
We Are All Babies
We sit in God’s lap and spit in his face. He does not spank us. He wipes His face and kisses us back. I have learned to do that with my babies when they spit or claw at me. Instead of pushing them away or spanking them, I have learned to delight in their chubby fingers that are learning to grasp, in their little curved lips that are learning to spit and sputter. And I kiss them. The same patience and love that is so easy to show to our babies, we need to show to our toddlers and children throughout their childhood, all the way to adulthood.
From God’s infinite perspective, no matter how wise we get, we are no different from our babies in wisdom and self-control.
God Used To Kill People, Therefore We Spank Our Children … Really?
In the Old Testament, there are many instances of people being struck to death by God. I really do not see how that can be an argument for spanking young children. It seems rather irrelevant to me.
I think it is far more telling that there is not a single instance of a baby or child being spanked in the Bible. Not one.
If the State has the power of capital punishment, the Church has excommunication, and the Family has the rod, an illustration I’ve heard quite a few times, then it just goes to show that the rod is something to be used only in the most extreme circumstances and not something to be used daily. It is so bizarre to me that advocates of “biblical spanking” (though there is no such thing as “spanking” in the Bible anywhere, I’m not kidding) often bring up capital punishment in their arguments.
To summarize, spanking itself perhaps can be a tool in Christian parenting for some people but it is one that can be very easily abused and is very often abused in the name of God, touted as a biblical requirement when in fact spanking small children is not a biblical requirement at all.
In the spirit of the God’s law that allows some murderers to go free instead of damning all suspects to death, I believe it is far better to err on the side of spanking too little than too much.
It is far better to “err” on the side of too much grace and patience … like God does with us every day.
The Bible commands us to train up our children. It commands us to discipline them. Any profession requires those things. Electricians, doctors, computer programmers, carpenters, no matter what you do, you need training to learn to do it and discipline to keep at it. None of them require physical beatings. It is possible to train and discipline children without beatings as well.
I plan to write more about this later but here are some Christian sites with a wealth of information.