Violence is the result of an exhausted mind. There is much truth in these words. But what does the Bible say, what does God say, especially in regards to raising our kids? Proverbs 23:14 says, "You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell." It doesn't say you might beat him or you can beat him, but you SHALL beat him. This is clearly a command. How do Christians reconcile this? Why should we hold our children's feet to the fire if forgiving should be our way of life?
Even if we discipline our children we can still forgive them. Was Christ's sacrifice not sufficient payment for every transgression? Was it only partial payment? Christ "offered one sacrifice for sins forever" (Heb10:12), "reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them"(2Cor5:19). So in order to be Christ-like should we not seek to be as forgiving as possible? So how is discipline – especially of the physical kind – justified along these lines? First of all, we must take a step back. We must examine the process before the transgression even occurs.
Our ability to discipline is an enormous responsibility only to be dispensed in highly selected circumstances. So many times we are quick to lay low the unruly child but again, before the transgression occurs, we should first examine ourselves. Is a plank blinding our point of view? We are told to "not provoke" (Eph6:4) our children. How often do our children disobey due to conditions placed upon them so choking and unreasonable, so misunderstanding of youth, that we channel them into disobedience? An innocent animal if cornered is likely to bite. Then we are all too ready to pounce upon them with harsh discipline that might be better placed upon ourselves. Are we so intent on raising God-fearing children that our desire to discipline outweighs our desire to nurture?
Let there be no mistake. The level of parental laxity in many homes leads to vast numbers of children that are manipulators demanding to be appeased. Parental authority has been replaced by negotiations, bribes, threats and a host of other tactics that essentially give children the message that they rule (or that there is no rule in) the home. If they learn to play the game skillfully enough they will get whatever they want. Explanation has replaced enforcement, but the real world is all too ready to enforce harshly without explanation. More importantly, the Lord requires no explanation to demand obedience.
Having said this though I fear the opposite is sometimes true. The intense desire to bring children into obedience can border on or even cross into the realm of abuse – both physical and psychological. Yes, our children must obey, but what causes them to be disobedient in the first place? Do we so blindly demand obedience that we sometimes lose sight of a solution that would not undermine our authority and safely allow the child an escape route of sorts? I speak not of appeasement as we must retain control as parents, but first we must be in control of ourselves. Wanting something done a particular way and blasting a child for not complying when a reasonable alternative exists is not godly. Jesus was not a coercive tyrant. We must tap into one of our most godly attributes – creativity – to find a way out. We need not compromise morally in the least bit, but failing to seek peaceful solutions in the name of authority and obedience can certainly be immoral.
Ephesians chapter 6 remains a favorite among Christians teaching discipline. However, the focus lays upon the parents, not the kids. Verse one says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord..." We, as parents, must be 'in the Lord' in order for our children to obey 'in the Lord' do we not? This command places us squarely under His domain as raisers of children. The King James version in verse two states, "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord." This must occur beyond and before harsh discipline, and if done well makes discipline less of a requirement.
No doubt there will be transgressions. There will be blatant acts of disobedience and disrespect which should be dealt with promptly and adequately. But here I speak of the gray zone which often occupies matters of discipline. It is not always black and white and even though we are the disciplinarians in our kids' lives that doesn't mean we can't be their advocates as well.
No, we can not be responsible for our children's sins – only Christ can and does ultimately bear those – but we are certainly responsible for any of our actions that may cause our children to stumble. Worse yet, if an atmosphere of tyranny (i.e. being 'out of' the Lord) drives any of our children from their faith then we fail profoundly. Christ said:
"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew18:6.)
If we punish them for our lack of foresight, our lack of ability, our lack of understanding, our lack of creativity, our lack of energy, our lack of control or our lack of faith then we must bear the full burden of responsibility. Again, I speak not of appeasement but of what God expects from parents. If we punish those whom we have been given the most intimate and influential stewardship for the sake of our agenda, rather than the Lord's, and use God's word inappropriately, then indeed a millstone shall be hung around our necks. We must not allow our minds to become exhausted. Let them be energized by the Holy Spirit. Let us raise our children in the nurture of the Lord.