Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?
The spanking debate within Christian circles has generally been focused on a few verses from Proverbs. Pro-spankers argue from the English translation which seems to condone beating a child with a literal rod. Those who are against it argue from the Hebrew of those verses, which does not. Although the Hebrew can be interpreted in different ways, none of them teach using a rod to hit a child. Instead, they teach the constant presence of parental guidance or authority in shaping the life of teenage sons. Interestingly, corporal punishment is illegal in Israel. If you are interested in this, I would encourage you to get a good Hebrew lexicon and study the verses, or read Samuel Martin's book Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me: Christians and the Spanking Controvery, and also recommend the following links: http://www.aolff.org/, www.parentingfreedom.com/discipline, and Dare to Disciple.
Beyond those verses, a very important question to ask is if the idea of Jesus hitting children in order to make them do what He wants is consistent with the rest of Scripture. Does that idea conform to the overall picture of Jesus as we read the Bible? What is His character like? Did He hit children? Did He punish the disciples? How did He treat the ones He disciplined?
Most of us have a hard time imagining Jesus, who consistently blessed the little children, in the act of hitting them. Although He was no wimp, and yes, even got angry on occasion, to the extent of throwing furniture (!), He didn't hurt people. He healed them. He explained things over and over in different ways to help them understand. He acted like a servant, not like a bully. He paid the price for all of our mistakes Himself. He showed us grace and mercy.
Yet when I talk with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ, they don't see Him that way. They see Him more like the Greek gods--petty, vengeful, cold and capricious. One who is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can justly smite us. Hitting little children fits within their view, because they believe that He is really like that. They would call it holiness or righteousness, of course. But it comes across quite clearly.
They believe that God "spanks" them. They look at any of the bad, painful things in their lives and attribute them to God's wrath, and call them a just punishment for their mistakes. Instead of suffering being an opportunity to grow, it is reduced to our payment to His wrath. Many are ever-striving to pass muster, holding their breaths lest they not measure up, and desperate to point to others who might be making worse mistakes. Instead of running and throwing themselves into His arms while calling, "Abba, Father!" they just hope to avoid His displeasure, and view Him with shame and fear.
They profess to believe in forgiveness, yet it often seems to be more of a feeling that the Cross bought them grudging tolerance and time to work on themselves. They still see themselves as shameful and vile, and they see sin and evilness in their children. If they believe that God is out to punish them, despite the work of Jesus on the cross, then it makes perfect sense to punish the mistakes of our children. To hurt them the way God hurts us.
I agree that God is holy, just and righteous, and that He calls us to righteousness, as well. Grace is not a greasy, feel-good, fatuous excuse to do wrong and get away with it. Romans 6 makes it clear that we are not to be slaves to sin. True freedom is being able to do what is right instead of futilely struggling against sinful bonds. But I believe that comes through Jesus, not through paying for our sins ourselves.
Why did Eve hide in the garden? I believe it was because she was afraid and ashamed. But I am learning to identify with another woman in another garden, the one who went looking for Him instead of hiding. The one who recognized Him when He called her by name. The one who when she repented of wrongdoing didn't hide, but washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. Instead of trying to avoid punishment, she reveled in restoration. I want the kind of relationship that Mary had. As a believer, as a daughter of the King, and as a mother to my own children. I don't want obedience that is motivated by fear; I want trust, closeness, love and restoration. Perfect love casts out fear.
Therefore, to me the question of spanking as a Christian parent is, as much as anything, about the Cross. Did Jesus really pay for our sins or do we pay for them through punishment? Do our works grow out of faith and relationship, or is our faith and relationship dependent on our works? I believe that our motivation must be love, and that the works then demonstrate that, not that we attain relationship through our works. Why do we as believers obey our Father? Because of love or because of fear? And how does our parenting reflect that?
I cannot think of any time when God has punished me. In discipling me, He has poured out incredible grace and mercy. And BECAUSE of that, I trust Him. I want to obey Him and become more like Him. Instead of trying to avoid His attention from fear, I cling to Him and delight in His love.
The more deeply the truth of grace sinks into our hearts, the more we are compelled to share it with others. God loves us extravagantly! He really, really does. He dances for joy over you. You are His child. So as you experience His amazing grace, consider what it means to your children. How do you show them the mercy, patience, kindness and gentleness that our heavenly Father lavishes on us?
Read I John. Read the Gospels. Read the entire Bible, even the Old Testament. Ultimately, it is all about reconciliation, about relationship, about grace. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God, who must therefore consider our children to be sinners in the hands of angry parents. We are in the nail-pierced hands of the One who loves us even when don't love Him. The One who IS love. Mercy triumphs over judgment.