Sacrifice, Discipline, and Other Things We Don't Understand

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Recently I spoke about what forgiveness means and what it doesn't. It's a great example of how Jesus' hermeneutic of looking at the fruits works. We can observe that when people interpret forgiveness as meaning that you must accept being hurt, swallowing the anger you feel when you are wronged and overlooking injury, that this leads to things like bitterness, resentment, depression, passive-aggressive behavior... in general it leads to a really unhealthy place because rather than working to reconcile and mending hurt it allows it to continue, simply burying it under the surface where it festers inside us. 

We may think we are doing something noble. We may think we are being faithful to follow the command of Jesus to forgive. But when we look at the fruits of how this broken understanding of forgiveness effects our lives, when put it into practice, we can see that those fruits are rotten. That's how we know we are getting it wrong, and why it is so vital that we cannot blindly obey. Rather, we must seek to understand. Because if we don't understand, the result will inevitably lead to hurt -- even with the best of intentions. Unquestioning obedience always leads to harm, because when we do not differentiate between a good and and hurtful application, hurt and abuse are simply inevitable.

There is just no way around that fact. That's why we need instead to have "faith seeking understanding," as Anselm said, meaning we begin with trust in Jesus based on our experience of being loved by God in Christ, and out of that trust we seek to understand how the way Jesus calls us to really does lead to love and beauty and goodness in our lives. Our father will not give us a stone when we ask for living bread.

As I outlined in How forgiveness works (and how it doesn't), forgiveness can be understood and applied in a way that leads to wholeness and healing in our lives. It can produce wonderful life-giving fruit. The key is really getting how it works, and the problem is that so often we Christians simply don't get how forgiveness works, we don't get how turning the other cheek works, we don't get how enemy love works. We may proclaim that we should practice these things, but we either proclaim them without understanding -- simply as commands to be unquestioningly followed -- or we may even proclaim them in a way that is hurtful.

For example, it's common to hear it expressed that the state cannot practice enemy love because the state cannot be expected to "sacrifice" and to be wronged. This is a statement commonly made by well-meaning, loving, and smart people who advocate the way of grace and enemy love. But consider what the implication here is: When we as individuals practice this kind of enemy love, what is being promoted is exactly the unhealthy form of allowing ourselves to be wronged, overlooking injury, and swallowing hurt that we saw was so damaging above. What is being proclaimed here is the broken and hurtful understanding of forgiveness. Indeed, states cannot be expected to practice this, but neither should you.  

What we can do however is observe in our lives how forgiveness does work, observe how it does lead to reconciliation and restoration, and then consider how those same principles could work on a larger scale to genuinely address societal problems. We begin with living it out in our own lives, learning by experience how it works in a deep and complex way, and then we bring that knowledge to larger communal relationships.

This is already happening on many levels. For example, as parents recognize that hitting kids hurts them, and does not produce the desired results of kids who are thoughtful, respectful, and empathetic, but instead harms them, this is translating into our public schools which are gradually moving away from corporal punishment. It is now illegal in the majority of States (31 of 50), the large exception being Southern States. This is a positive move, but we are still far behind the rest of the Western world were it is illegal in every country. The good news is that teachers are learning better ways to teach kids respect, self-control, and empathy, and the reason for this is that they have looked at the fruits and observed what works and leads to the good they desire, and what instead leads to harm.

The sad exception to this is private schools in the U.S., primarily those run by conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, where beating kids with a paddle is still practiced. Why? Because they ignore the obvious bad fruits and instead blindly follow "what the Bible teaches" unquestioningly, detached from understanding, thought, and even conscience. That's the rotten fruit of unquestioning obedience, and why it is so important that we instead learn to read Scripture like Jesus did in a way that leads to love, in a way that makes us better people not worse ones.

Labels: , ,


At 5:27 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I get the stuffing not dealing with our emotions and being wronged for Christ sake being abuse in disguise. I get the fact that "forgive and forget" is not helpful or at worst hurtful.

I also get the railing against blind obedience to the word. But as one who was spanked in public school as a kid, I felt great love not for being beaten but for being held accountable for my actions. While I am against abuse and currently have decided not to spank my kids because I can't do it without getting too emotional entangled. I think there are people, conservatives, more mature that can spank in a way that leads to the kids not being afraid, angry, or resentful. But to as Heb12 says, while not pleasant at the time, later in life they are thankful because what it produced.

Am I saying the only way to interpret discipline is spanking or the paddle? No. I think after a certain age it is no longer effective. I was part of a place where there was a school, where if the kids acted up in my class, they would be sent to the office for swats. I'm not looking to defend what this place did. But I did notice the one that did it, did it in a very honoring non shaming way. And the kids loved and respected him for it, not out of fear and blind obedience.

Anyway I'm sure we could debate that a great deal. I get your audience so I can imagine the kinds of responses I will get. Even so to generalize that all spanking is from blind obedience is simply an exaggeration.

The issue for parents who still believe that there is a place for spanking or paddling is how it is done. Done inconsistently, it will do more harm than good. Done out of anger or retaliation and it can do more damage. But I do believe that Christ like people can do it without it being blind obedience. I don't think it is so simple, I think the issue is far more complex.

At 5:42 AM, Blogger SteveO said...

Brad makes some very good points. We practiced loving chastisement in raising our 3 kids and they all turned out to be successfully, well adjusted and emotionally healthy adults, nd we maintain close, loving relationships. We receive many compliments for our offspring, people truly like them. They live in the same town with us and we have great family reunions with the extended family. So, judging by these fruits, I feel no guilt and conclude that virtuous chastisement works. Brad is right about age appropriateness too. The "age of chastisement" was over by age 4 or 5.

On the other hand, we know many non-chastisers who had hellions for kids which did not turn out to be very good adults either. So the by-their-fruits-you-shall-know-them mantra is not clear cut, the idealism does not mesh with the reality.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I’ll need to split this response up in a few parts...

I think it would be important to clarify what we are talking about here. Steve says "The 'age of chastisement' was over by age 4 or 5" but public schools are age 6-18 yrs (1st-12th grade). Additionally, paddling is quite different from "spanking" which commonly refers to striking with an open hand. Hitting a teenager with a paddle as hard as you can is very different from a giving small child a light swat on the butt because the run towards the street. There is also a huge difference – as you note – between corporal punishment administered calmly, and a parent who hits their kid in a rage. According to studies, parents are more likely to use corporal punishment when they are angry or irritable, depressed, fatigued, and stressed. So the reality is that there is a huge variance here in how this is actually practiced, and those differences are quite significant.

Then there is the "biblical model" which is not to strike on the buttocks (as in both paddling and spanking) but instead to hit the back and sides using either a rod or a whip. This resulted in bleeding and bruises, and because the back and sides are where the internal organs are located, would often result in internal bleeding as well. It’s the kind of beating that today would land a person in the ER.

This is the type of punishment referred to in Hebrews 12 where the Greek word used is mastigoo meaning "to flog, whip" and is the same Greek word used to describe the whipping of Jesus by the soldiers before his crucifixion. Indeed, it was common to beat children, slaves, and prisoners in this way for centuries. That is the “biblical” model.

This type of beating is illegal now (defined legally as leaving wounds or marks on the body). No advocate of corporal punishment today advocates this “biblical” model because they would be advocating something that we consider to be criminal child abuse which could have legal repercussions for them.


At 3:28 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

part 2...

So let’s begin by recognizing that, first of all, when advocating for spanking (or even paddling) this is not the same as the "biblical model" and instead reflects a moving away from it. We could call this a "redemptive trajectory." Spanking is certainly not child abuse. What was practiced in biblical times certainly was child abuse. So the fruits of these will be quite different.

Second, when evaluating the fruits it would be important that we do so in a way that takes advantage of the scientific method, rather than relying on individual anecdotal observations alone – whether those are my experiences or yours. The American Academy of Pediatrics for example issued an official policy statement over a decade ago declaring that corporal punishment of children— including spanking— has potentially harmful side effects, and recommended that “parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior.”

I would suggest reading their full statement ( ) however in sum, their conclusions were that spanking is less effective that other forms, such as time outs, and although spanking
may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, since its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use, the only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse.

Additionally, spanking itself has been associated with increased aggressive behavior in children. As the report states,

“The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults. Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.”

Those are the bad fruits I was referring to, and they are based on observations of the effects of spanking of large groups of people over time (that’s the science part). Perhaps your experience was different. That is entirely possible, as there are many variables involved. So there will clearly be variance. That variance does not annul the scientific findings of groups like the AAP however. Their conclusion was not that it *always* would lead to these hurtful results, but rather that because spanking often does escalate into abuse, and itself has been associated with many negative affects, it would be much better to find other means of achieving desired behavior that have been shown to be equally and even more effective, and which do not have the potential negative consequences in the lives of our children associated with spanking.


At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Part 3...

So from all of this I would conclude the following:

First, when conservative Christian schools advocate corporal punishment based on a “biblical model,” the argument typically used is that the Bible provides an unchanging guide from God. This is the “unquestioning” approach I was referring to, and conservative Christian advocates of corporal punishment commonly do make the argument that despite what a parent may think, despite what their pediatrician might say, they *must* spank because “God’s word commands them to.” That is a very dangerous position to hold, and one that undoubtably has let to people going against their conscience, doing things to their kids that they felt were wrong. To tell a person to go against their conscience, especially in this context, is a recipe for abuse.

Second, as I outlined above, contemporary advocates of “biblical” corporal punishment do not in fact advocate the type of corporal punishment that was practiced in biblical times which would without question be considered criminal child abuse today (beating a person bloody). Instead they have moved away from this towards spanking, which would clearly not be considered as physical abuse.

While this can be considered in some senses a positive improvement from the past, the trouble is, their milder version of corporal punishment is still radically out of step with current medicine and mental health by at least two decades. So if our goal is to consider the fruits of our action and look to a means of raising our kids in the best way possible, then we should not continue to advocate for something that has been shown to be harmful in its own right, can often lead to abuse, and has been shown to be no more effective, and is arguably less effective than nonviolent means of correction.

At 4:26 PM, Blogger SteveO said...

Those are all OUTSTANDING points Derek!! And much needed so THANKS for that.

We always had a very strong emphasis on love and gentleness and any swatting was RARE and so mild as to hardly cause pain. Tears were not from pain but from sorrow. Often when the kids were found out they would burst into tears, run to us saying "sorry," and while hugging them we had to hold back the laughter as we recognized the same spirit in us. We never entrusted chastisement to others, even close friends. Generally, they were quite capable of sound moral reasoning by age 4 or 5 and when we saw that, chastisement ended. It took much longer to reason with them but it was more than worth the effort. We used timeouts a lot. If I had to do it again I'd give serious thought to reconsidering chastisement altogether.

It pains me to put it in words but the Biblical model is just wrong on this, at least as regards severity. In retrospect, I'm very glad I listened to my heart instead of following the literal application of Scripture. Our main focus was to nurture and protect the hearts,feelings and emotions of our kids. I would venture to say that yelling at kids causes far more damage and should be avoided completely.

Two of our kids left home for college. What a wonderful blessing it is knowing you can trust the good judgment of your grown offspring!

Thankfully, we don't have to be a perfect parent, just a good parent. The children will forgive our imperfections and the Lord will make up for our shortcomings. They're our kids for a season, they belong to the Lord for eternity. As I often say, "Our kids turned out to be great people, despite their parents. :-)

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

I find that I need to process my anger when things happen. Why? Because if I run into opening my mouth too quickly in all likelihood I will hurt those I am called to love. I know I can get angry very quickly because I am blind to so much and I see so few of the details too because in part as a man I compartmentalize stuff. I find that when I contain my anger, pray about it, meditate on the situation/(people in question) and ask God for wisdom I begin to see important stuff that often melts my anger away or makes me more merciful. I also realize that when I am angry I am often quick to judge…before the culprit has been confronted…which is wrong…and would get me into trouble if I didn’t shut my mouth. So these are my attempts to being meek (slow to anger) and slow to speak. Sometimes I do confront…after a lot of processing…but often I don’t need to confront…because I need to choose my battles wisely or I don’t have to confront.

At 8:48 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

Whipping kids to the point of drawing blood and leaving life time scars on the legs is quite legal for USofA missionaries at boarding schools for missionary children.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

I should have said that recently it was quite legal (or they did it anyway)

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Gingoro what country are you thinking of? It is not legal in the USA.

At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Good points. Especially about yelling. I think he key there is that doing anything out of anger (whether it's hitting, yelling, or even calmly saying cruel things) is bad. It's understandable of course since parenting can stretch one way past their limits. That's why we've found that as parents *we* are often the one who needs a "time out" so we can take a breath and calm down before engaging.

At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

typo: "I think he key there" should be "I think the key there"

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

It brings new application to "in your anger, do not sin." It seems like we agree that acting out of anger leads to hurtful results.

At 2:24 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

I am talking about mission run boarding schools in say Ethiopia and Canada but lots of other countries where evangelical Christian missions ran such places. In my own mind I call them abuse facilities. Read Diamond Fractal by Keegan and begin to understand how bad they really were.

At 11:12 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

It depends on the laws of the countries. Ethiopia and Canada are very different. Canada is more progressive/humane than the USA in terms of violence (capitol punishment, torture, war, corporal punishment, etc) so it would surprise me if that were true of Canada. Among Western countries, the USA is probably the worst in terms of justifying violence.

At 4:43 AM, Blogger gingoro said...

It certainly was true of Ethiopia as I saw the American headmaster whip people till their legs bled. The particular mission had offices in both the US and Canada and the school in Canada was abusive, I was there. Their abuse was different but still extremely destructive. Back when I was at these abuse facilities I doubt the laws in Canada would have prevented such physical abuse but I could be wrong.


Post a Comment

<< Home

This website and its contents are copyright © 2000 Derek Flood, All Rights Reserved.
Permission to use and share its contents is granted for non-commercial purposes, provided that credit to the author and this url are clearly given.