You don’t often hear parishioners gasp while reading Scripture aloud, but it happened to me this past Sunday. Let me give you the setting.
Each summer, I usually leave the comforts of the Revised Common Lectionary and preach a sermon series. This summer we have been studying the parables of Jesus. This year, I decided to couple this series with a book that we don’t often read in worship, the Book of Proverbs. And, to be totally honest, although I dig into and study the parables in detail while writing my sermons each week, when I am busy, I don’t always read through the Proverbs. I wish I had last week.
What were the verses that caused the gasp? Proverbs 23:13-14: Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.
I grew up with corporal punishment and survived just fine. It wasn’t so much from my parents, although my father paddled me a couple of times. It came largely in the schools growing up. But while I understand the logic, I can’t say I am a fan of corporal punishment, and I don’t seek out institutions that practice it for my own children. I believe it helps institute a mindset of, “If you can’t figure out how to solve a problem, use physical force.” I believe it might cause more problems than it solves.
I do recognize that, especially with young boys, if they do not have any fear of those in authority over them, it can be detrimental to them. But I equally believe we can be smarter about enforcing discipline than simply through force. While I never say never, some souls are like a mule and might not pay attention to anything but “the rod,” nevertheless, most children’s misbehavior can be curtailed effectively without them living in fear of physical pain being inflicted upon them by the authority figures around them.
Of course, this does put me squarely at odds with Solomon, but while I surely respect him and will continue to read the Proverbs in worship, I think Jesus’ teaching trumps Solomon’s. Jesus never advocated physical violence in any setting (and some of them would surely warrant it in our common ethos).
Solomon, as wise as he was, saw his grand kingdom split apart by his own sons. Rehoboam, after being raised by Solomon, took the counsel of his advisers to be twice as hard on his workers as his father had been, and the united kingdom was no more.
This does take a nuanced reading of Scripture, but I think it is an important one. “All Scripture is not equal” in my view, and Jesus came to clarify God’s will and institute a new covenant with us. And in my view, that includes trying to find ways where we can resolve our issues without physical force as often as possible.
As a society, this may be hard. But personally, it is less so. As for me and my household, we use “the rod” sparingly, and I believe we Christians should encourage others to do the same. I don’t think we can make a carte blanche rule. Every situation and every personality is different. But, as wise as Solomon was in many things, on this issue, I think we can be wiser by following the way of Christ as often as possible.
What do you think?