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Volume 14, Issue 4: Virga


Matt Whitling

Mom's hand swept up dramatically in the air. Two robins outside were arguing over some bit of worm which neither seemed particularly impressed by. A split-second later her hand came down and splinters of transparent green plastic were careening to the ground all around me like the fading sparks from an aerial firework. Time stood still. The eery shards clicked on the hardwood floor of my parents' bedroom as they each found a resting place. I could hear a quick intake of breath from my mother. Our two minds seized all that had happened in the same instant—hers from above and mine from a lower and more prone position. She saw everything, while I experienced it in a deeper more poetic way. The roll-top desk blushed an oaken red and gasped at us both through a toothy smile of stamps and stationary. The Green Knight's palm, her trusted spanking implement, the clear green ruler in the form of a hand, was irreparably broken. Together, we had fractured it.

Spanking can seem like a tricky business, even if you do have all the requisite supplies, but spanking without a good rod is like fly-fishing with a piece of twine wrapped around your index finger. It has none of the intended results. In Proverbs we are told that spanking should be done with a rod: "He that spareth his rod, hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod and shalt deliver his soul from hell. The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." As we seek to imitate God in the way He disciplines, we find that these commands are consistent with our heavenly Father's discipline. God the Father uses a rod on His children, and earthly fathers are commanded to do the same. "I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men." (2 Sam. 7:14). In order to obey the text, it is necessary that we understand as much as possible about rods and how to use them before we start swinging them around our children.
God, however, does not supply us with child-training videos, life-sized rod diagrams, or blueprints with measurements and wood types clearly labeled. Understanding and applying the Scriptures accurately, in this area and in all others, is an exercise in wisdom. We are told that parents must have and use a rod on their children, but the details are not explained. "How many spanks?" we ask—no answer. "Should the child be standing or lying down?"—same response. "Does the rod have to be wood or is plastic or leather just as good?" A host of questions like these are simply not answered in the text—we are not told. Before we hasten into a discussion of particular methods, and there are many in this area, we need to be clear on the context and goal of spanking.
Spanking is a salvific activity (Pr. 23:14). It is not an act of war against our children. Parents are shepherds, and their children are sheep (Is. 40:11). Wolves are to be crushed and slain, while children are to be disciplined and nourished. Any use of the rod that treats children as the enemy misses the point entirely. Sheep need to be wacked when they begin to wander from the flock, but the wacking is for their own good and not for their destruction. It is designed to keep them safe and to protect them. Away from the flock there are dangers—sheep are devoured out there, they become distracted and lost from the fold, or they are lured away by a verdant patch of grass or a friendly looking bear. The objective of spanking is to keep the sheep within the flock.
Sooner or later fathers will have to answer a few practical questions about the rod. Primarily, what tool will you use? Some use their hand, others their belt, and still others a willow switch, glue stick, ruler, wooden spoon, paint stirrer, newspaper, etc. If you're unprepared or in a bind, any of these implements, correctly used, is better than giving up. But there are a few practical issues that should be addressed as you choose a rod. Spanking with one's hand is certainly convenient (for example it is difficult to lose), but in this situation, the pain involved in a hearty spank is felt two ways (remember Newton's Third Law). Physical pain in the hand of the spanker simply makes it more difficult to discipline with self-control, it also discourages the parent from spanking frequently because it hurts. A belt can be difficult to regulate, especially for moms, and other objects have aesthetic shortfalls that should exclude them out of hand.
Throughout the Scriptures God uses wood as a salvific instrument or in a redemptive setting: the tree of life, Noah's ark, Moses' rod, the tree cast into Marah, the furniture and superstructure of the tabernacle, a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole, Jesus a carpenter, branches grafted into an olive tree, God the vinedresser—all culminating in the cross of Christ. When it comes to choosing a rod, an instrument to be used in the salvation of our children, wood seems the obvious choice. Look for something about a cubit long that flirts with flexibility, but be sure it's strong enough to shoulder your love for your children.
I have no idea what offense Mom and I broke that ruler over. It is far gone and completely forgiven. Any memories of that favored green hand bring only laughter and delight to us now. And although we thoroughly splintered it on the last swing, my parents ended up with a lamb which stayed close on the hillside, and then grew to shepherd children's children within the same fold.

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