Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. Proverbs 23, verses 13 and 14.
Warning to any would-be physical abusers: this verse isn’t your carte blanche to ply your favorite activity. Here’s where I get to spout off a few opinions. People who abuse their kids are vermin. Boyfriends who abuse their girlfriends are despicable. Husbands who abuse their wives and children are, in my opinion, using up our oxygen. Abusers become the targets in what the military calls a “target rich environment.” Get in my way, Mr. Abuser, and you won’t be getting anywhere soon. I’m as mild mannered a man as they come…except where abuse is involved. In this, I’ve proven I tolerate none of it (and even in doing that my responses have been comparatively mild). I look forward to stopping the hurt. My ideal for tolerance in such situations is Jack Bauer. Or “Taken.”
So what is the proverb really saying? Isn’t it saying “when your kid is out of line, give him the belt?” No. Or how about “keep that switch at the ready.” No again. Fists and physicality to teach them a lesson? Definitely no, not ever. We’ve talked about this before: it is discipline that God wants parents to instill in their children. He is love and wants love to imbue all our actions. He wants us to be disciplined that we may become self-disciplined, using His guiding love to rule all our actions. Since that’s the case, how can anyone in their right mind equate love with abuse?
This isn’t that hard. “The rod” signifies any kind of discipline, any kind of punishment grounded in love that is designed to correct. Why is that so important?
If your child were kicked out of school, would you want to punish them? If they got picked up by the police for a crime, would you want them punished? If they took your car, stole your money, lied to you repeatedly, or broke things and then hid them, would you want to mete out punishment? Me too. Yes, there’s an element of anger there; it should be righteous anger, but it’s anger all the same. It’s okay to feel angry at being wronged, insulted or offended. It’s even okay to want to administer punishment to those who have done the wrong.
The response, however, should be in love. If it isn’t, then what is it? You know the answer; it isn’t that difficult.
Extreme? Not really. Abuse is an extreme thing. Just punishment isn’t abuse. Just punishment, administered in love, is correction designed to teach a valuable moral lesson. When that becomes incessant emotional haranguing, physical beating, manipulation or anything sexual, it’s no longer correct or loving. Scripture NEVER advises abuse of any kind, but always points to a way of love. It does so that people may see the error of their deeds and do better. It does so because that’s what God does for all our misdeeds, all our transgressions. He corrects us to save our souls, and He does it in loving ways.
Several times in my life I have stopped abuse, and the times when I’ve passed by the opportunity to do so I have immediately regretted it. In my opinion, there is no room in this world for people who get their kicks out of kicking other people. There’s also no room for people who bastardize Scripture to justify their sick abandonment of self control. Or for those who insist their abuse is constructive punishment and good for the abused. No sin is unforgiveable, even that of the abuser. I think that, in the long run, forgiving such abusers is a critical part of the abused living a healthy life. That doesn’t mean putting up with it, though. God doesn’t ask us to suffer at the hands of an abuser, but He does ask us to trust Him. That may involve His sending help when it’s needed. If you’re being abused, flee. Don’t sweat the small stuff or the possessions. Just get out. And if you need help, call me anytime.