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Spankings and Worldviews

Spanking

by Dennis Pollock

It would have been amusing had it not been so sad, and presented yet one more piece of evidence of just how far our nation has turned away from the word of God and from the thinking that has marked evangelicals for the last two thousand years. Recently one of the morning news programs played a video, secretly recorded in a school principal’s office. It featured a little five-year-old boy about to be spanked and pleading desperately to escape his punishment. The principal and teacher patiently told the boy that he must receive his punishment, and finally the discipline was administrated, a single blow to the backside with a paddle.

The scene was neither shocking nor novel to me. Having raised five children of my own and having taught in an elementary school where paddlings were allowed, I have given out my share of such punishments, although admittedly it was quite a few years ago. Nor was I particularly moved to hear the boy begging for a cancellation of the spanking. No child likes such a punishment, and most have their own strategies to try to get out of it. My oldest daughter, knowing that I would never be moved by her begging and pleading for mercy, probably had the best tactic of all, one I never really guessed was being used until years later. She would wait to receive her first whack, and then start crying and sobbing so pathetically that I would feel terrible. I would go ahead and give her the appropriate remaining whacks, but my heart was no longer in it. Hearing her carry on so loudly I felt horrible, and the other blows were administered with very little force. It was only after she was older and no longer being paddled that she admitted that this was deliberate on her part. She knew that if she cried loudly and reacted as though she had just gone through terrible pain, the remaining whacks would be of no consequence.

You are probably wondering just what this little boy’s offense was. Of course, being five years old, it was not selling drugs or sexual harassment or bringing a gun to class. The little boy had fought with and had spat on one of his fellow students. When the teacher tried to apprehend him, he had run from her. Admittedly, this wouldn’t qualify as the worst of all school behavior, but to my mind, for a five-year-old that is pretty serious stuff. I would have to agree with the teacher and principal that this little darling deserved to be spanked.

The thing that made this particular video upsetting to me was not the business of a little boy being spanked in school – that is something that has been going on for thousands of years. No, the problem for me was how the newscasters reacted in discussing the incident. One lady spoke of how terrible this was and how painful it was for her to watch. She was nearly in tears. Her male colleague declared over and over that this was hard for him to watch. And he made the comment that it was a terrible thing that this boy would forevermore associate school with pain and fear. The way these newscasters unanimously and somberly bemoaned the punishment of this child, one might have thought he had been tied to a rack and tortured. In fact, the boy received one whack with the paddle, far less than I would have applied, given the circumstances.

One might argue that schools should leave such punishments for the parents, but considering that primary students are in school for a significant percentage of their waking days, it seems reasonable to me. More and more children in school are from broken homes and unstable home situations, and schools without the teeth of tough discipline are becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Sadly, quality education for students is harder and harder to come by, partly due to the fact that teachers are often forced to spend inordinate amounts of time and energy just trying to keep the class under control.

Radically Different

John Gray has written a book that has become an enormous best-seller, titled Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. One of the reasons for the book’s success is that he makes a very simple, but powerful and a very necessary point – men and women are two different critters. To take a few liberties with John Gray’s terminology, we could say that secular folks are from Earth, and Christians are from Heaven. Our thinking, our attitudes, our values, our core belief systems, our worldview, and our perspectives are so radically, fundamentally, and profoundly different that it seems as if we came from different worlds. And in a sense we have. Without Christ, men and women are “of this world.” With Christ, we are “of the kingdom of heaven” and members of the family of God.

The business of a five-year-old who gets spanked in school is really a small matter, in and of itself. But it represents an enormous chasm between the views of Christians and non-Christians. When it comes to spanking and disciplining children, evangelical, Bible-reading, Scripture-memorizing Christians are nearly unanimous in their view that such is in fact necessary. How could it be otherwise? The Bible tells us:

  1. Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction. (Proverbs 19:18)
  2. He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Proverbs 13:24)
  3. Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell. (Proverbs 23:13, 14)


angry childThat the Bible highly recommends discipline and physical punishment for children’s willful, rebellious behavior, cannot be questioned. But in our nation and throughout the world the vast majority of people a) don’t read the Bible, b) don’t believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and c) don’t know much at all about what the Bible says. Many would suggest that the exhortations from Proverbs about discipline spring from a cultural perspective. They suppose that the writers expressed what the Hebrew culture then believed, but that these things are entirely irrelevant for modern times. Those primitive folks in Solomon’s day were so ignorant they didn’t realize how terribly damaging to little Johnny’s self-esteem a paddle in the hands of mom or dad or one’s teacher can be. Today we are wiser; we know better. We understand that our children must be spared from all pain and virtually all consequences of bad behavior.

Believers who Believe

Evangelical Christians are a different sort. Believing that the Bible comes not from the cultural biases of primitive men but rather directly from the heart of the everlasting God, they take it seriously and bend their own prejudices, opinions, perspectives, and attitudes to line up with that which they find in the holy Scriptures. Thus when it comes to corporal punishment the matter is not up for discussion. If God has already come down on the side of spanking, they are not about to dare argue with their Creator, or to assume their “wisdom” trumps His.

But apart from the inspiration of the Scriptures there is another dimension to be considered, which is the Biblical view of the heart of humanity. Going beyond the question of “should children be spanked” is the question of why they need spanking in the first place. And the Bible reveals this very plainly, declaring: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15). This is a powerful statement that almost no secular man or woman would accept these days. From this and other verses throughout the Scriptures the Bible declares that we are born into this world hard-wired with foolishness, or to put it another way, born with a sinful nature. It is, to use the colorful language of Solomon, “bound up in the heart of a child.”

A sinful, selfish, grasping, demanding, ugly, me-first, got-to-have-it-when-I-want-it nature is present when your tiny little newborn baby takes his first breath and cries his first cry. Babies are cute and sweet and pretty and cuddly, but they are not entirely innocent. There is a measure of evil that is so bound up within them that no surgery, no amount of education, neither compliments, nor praises, nor affection, nor mountains of presents, nor making sure that their every need is instantly supplied will keep it from surfacing. Although it may start out “below-ground” it will not take long to dominate and affect the child’s aims and goals, his attitudes and values, and will, if not checked, cast a foul odor over every area of his life.

Two Fixes

Theologians refer to this condition as original sin, and Biblically speaking there are but two remedies for this terrible baggage we carry into this world. One is a temporary fix, and that is what the Bible calls “the rod of discipline.” Although it may seem primitive and insensitive, the hard fact is that children must experience pain and confrontations by adults when the behavior springing from this evil nature begins to manifest. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of every child, and it is not compliments, praises, or soothing words, but the “rod of discipline” that will drive it far from him. No, it must not be harsh discipline, or violent discipline. It should be administered out of loving concern, but it cannot be neglected. To fail to discipline a child is a form of child abuse. To ignore this aspect of child-raising out of a naïve and misplaced sense of compassion is to set your child up for failure and lawlessness.

The newscaster declared his concern that this little boy would learn to associate school with pain. It is not schools which should be associated with pain, but poor behavior which should become associated with pain and disagreeable consequences in our minds. When we behave outrageously in our youth, we should meet with some form of pain or discipline or unpleasant consequences so often, that when we reach adulthood we will have that association firmly etched in our minds and hearts. This will prove a powerful motivating force, causing us to seek to live honorably, responsibly, and peacefully. Blessed is the boy or girl who has parents wise enough to see this, so that his adult years might be happy and blessed ones. Or to say it more Biblically: Hate your son – spare the rod. Love your son – administer the rod wisely, justly, and appropriately, along with mega doses of love and affirmation throughout the course of his young life.

Before the Cement Hardens

I mentioned earlier that this was the temporary fix. The rod of discipline can work wonders in keeping wayward children in line, but it can never completely subdue the heart. That is the work of Jesus Christ. A self-controlled, easy-going sinner is far easier to live with than a rebellious, obnoxious, hateful sinner, but both are still sinners. Ultimately the heart must be changed. No amount of spankings, groundings, time-outs, or taking away privileges can substitute for the born again experience. By all means discipline your children, but make sure that they are presented with the gospel of Christ. And do it while they are still young. Don’t wait until they are adults. Most people who become committed Christians found Christ in their youth. The vast majority of men and women who make it to thirty without receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord will never find Him.

It is in our youth, when our biases and prejudices have not yet hardened, when the walls of our delusions and false assumptions have not yet been fully erected, and when our hearts and spirits are still open to new views and insights, that we need to hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus does sometimes save men and women in middle and even old age. But for most it will happen in their childhood or youth, or it will not happen at all.

Let us then take the raising of our children seriously. Let us show by our interest and attention that they are important and valuable in our sight. Let us be sure that their rebellious behaviors and attitudes have consequences attached to them. Let us be quick to praise them for those first faltering steps of integrity and responsibility. And above all, let us be faithful to tell them the story of Jesus Christ: His life, His death, His resurrection, and His offer of salvation and eternal life to all who believe.


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