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Volume 16, Issue 2: Childer

Spanking Stories

Douglas Wilson

At a recent conference, my wife heard a funny story about some old friends of ours who had moved to another state. They have two small children, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. Once when both children needed to be disciplined, the four-year-old was off getting spanked and the two-year-old was sitting in the hall while her brother was receiving his just deserts. As she was waiting, her father heard her singing Psalm 20 to herself—"the Lord hear thee in troubled times." "That doesn't apply here!" he told her.

We have had many occasions where high school and college students, large numbers of them, have been sitting around in our living room, telling stories. Periodically, the theme will turn to spanking stories, and one of the most remarkable features of such storytelling has been the affection that the stories reveal. Disciplined children are not abused children; they are secure children. Not surprisingly, secure children grow up into secure young men and women. Abused children are not really being disciplined—they actually become as undisciplined (in the biblical sense) as their angry and undisciplined parents. Abuse is not an excess of discipline—it is a total absence of righteous discipline.
People who do not know how to look beyond surface appearances will say that when you spank a child you are teaching them violence. They say spanking a child is hitting a child, and they are impatient with those who seek to make fundamental distinctions. Lovemaking is not rape, even though the same biological act is involved in both. Executing Ted Bundy is not imitating Ted Bundy, even though someone loses his life in both instances. The difference between child abuse and child discipline is as vast as the difference between unrighteousness and rightousness.
Godly discipline, spanking included, is an act of love. Children who are disciplined appropriately know that they are being loved, and they know that the world is a secure place. Boundaries exist, and those boundaries are defended by parents who love the boundaries, just as they love their children. Children who are not corrected and spanked when they need it know that their parents are actually exhibiting a hatred of them (Prov. 13:24). This is what Scripture teaches, and so we may safely assert it. But having done so, we are also invited to taste the godly fruit of obedience in this. The Scriptures are not true in a vacuum; they speak the truth to us, about us, and concerning us. Whenever we obey, trusting God for the blessing, the results are what the Bible promises to glad obedience.
And this is why it is such a great delight to listen to spanking stories. They are overwhelmingly characterized by joy, kindness, delight and affection. It would be wonderful for someone to collect and publish them. But there is a certain kind of innocence involved in them, an innocence that is hard for some artsy folks to take. The stories would all come off sounding like they should be published in the Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell cover and all. Everyone knows that to write realistic stories about childhood, the writer has to have lanky, greasy hair in his eyes, he has to smoke cigarettes like Keroauc, his jaundiced eye has to see the seemy, the gritty, and the real. The stories I have in mind, involving parents who did exactly what they were supposed to, would come off as dishonest. They would ring false to the jaded reader. They would seem far too . . . wholesome. But this is only because we have been calling evil good for a lot longer than is spiritually healthy (Is. 5:20).
One time my grandson was over at our house (after spending about two years on this planet) and he did something or other that warranted paternal intervention. As he was being led off down the hall by his father, he raised one hand, pinky and thumb extended, wagged them back and forth, and said, "Hang loose, Daddy."
Another time this same child was ready to receive richly-deserved swats, awaiting the arrival of his father. He decided that if he was going to catch it, he might as well enter into the spirit of the thing. He started shouting, "Ten more swats, Ben! Ten more swats!"
At the time of discipline there is sin, frustration, correction, patient counsel, prayer, and loving reconciliation. It should be a serious time, with a resultant sweetness. But sometime mysterious happens to these serious times over the course of time. With the passage of years, a loved child grows and matures, and one of the great things in this maturing process is the perspective it provides. And the spanking episode becomes funny—endearing. But sin left to itself always grows up ugly.
One time, many years ago, one of our daughters was sitting at lunch, confronted with a sandwich that she did not want to eat. My wife left the room for a moment, and when she came back, the sandwich was entirely gone. "Did you eat it?" The solemn reply was yes. Nancy, having been to college, went over and looked in the garbage can and found the sandwich sitting on the top. Since lying was one of our central spanking offenses, the discipline was promptly administered. And looking back now, we all think this was hilarious, including the offender, who will be dealing with her own children the same way soon enough.
But suppose the same kind of disobedience and lying is not disciplined. As the years go by, we all discover there is nothing endearing about it at all.

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