Sunday, January 15, 2012

Does God Spank His Children?

I am saddened when I hear a Christian, a dear redeemed child of God, say "God spanks His children." Why does this sadden me? Because it misrepresents God, and it takes away from what Christ did on the cross on our behalf.

The only support I have ever heard for this idea comes from Hebrews 12. Hebrews 12:6 reads: "FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.” It certainly would appear that this passage teaches believers that God spanks His children, due to the use of the term "scourges". 


A sound principle to use when trying to understand any Scriptural passage is to never lift a verse out of context when interpreting it. In a previous post, I went step by step through Hebrews 12, so I will not do that here, but, for the sake of this discussion, here is a summation: Hebrews 12 is a passage that was meant to ENCOURAGE believers to ENDURE persecution. The author is urging readers not to give up in the face of hardship, keeping their eyes fixed on the goal (as though they are runners in a race), remembering how Jesus suffered at the hands of angry men. 


In fact, Jesus, the author of our faith, the perfect Son of God, was scourged for our transgressions, and thus all of us are able to be received as God's purified sons and daughters. Isaiah 53:5 reads, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."


Through Jesus, through His scourging and death on our behalf, WE ARE HEALED. He took the punishment for our sins! Hebrews 12:6 needs to be seen in the context of what Jesus did on our behalf, and in the context of the passage, which refers not to punishment for wrongdoing, but to God's training of His children as they face hardships and, indeed, persecution in life. God urges believers to endure hardship as from His hand; there is no reference in this passage to hardship being a punishment for wrongdoing. If there was, then believers would be urged not to sin, so as to AVOID hardship; believers would be cautioned to question whether hardship in their lives was due to their misbehavior. But that is NOT what this passage teaches...in fact, the passage encourages believers to EMBRACE hardship as discipline (paideia, training). They are encouraged to ENDURE, and to see hardship as a sign that they are, indeed, God's children (believers should not worry when they face hardship that God has forgotten them, or that He is angry with them, or that He is working against them).

The purpose of a spanking is to cause a behavior to cease, or, as some parents believe, to rid their children of sin-guilt. We need to really think about God's discipline as laid out in Hebrews 12 and ask ourselves if spanking aligns with God's discipline of His children. God doesn't discipline His children to relieve them of sin-guilt--that is what Jesus did; when we feel guilt for our sins, we are supposed to look to Jesus as our high priest who has made intercession for us already (this is actually discussed at length in the book of Hebrews). In my next post, I will discuss how God's discipline of His children differs from a spanking. 

Our Christian culture says that spanking is biblical; it says that if moms and dads choose not to spank, then they are disobeying God's command. The implication, then, is that God spanks us grown ups too. If that is the case, we ought to live in constant fear of God. Every time hardship or persecution enters our lives, we need to ask ourselves: what did I do wrong this time? We need to strive very hard never to do wrong so that God won't need to punish us. Furthermore, we will always fear that when we do wrong, God temporarily takes the stance of "judge," rather than that of "Abba, Father." In short, we will not live in love, for, as 1 John 4:18 states: "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." It is time for us to look outside of our cultural norms, and to really dig deep into God's word, being careful not to jump to conclusions based on what we are taught, but based on what Scripture is actually saying.