I received a sarcastic little note suggesting that I didn’t believe God’s Word because, according to the critic, I don’t take the proverbs about disciplining children “literally.” My strong admonition about extreme caution in spanking was not taken well and I got smacked with the “you don’t believe the Bible because you don’t take it literally” charge. However, I do not know a single person (even among the radical pro-spanking group) that takes all the proverbs of the bible with the same rigid literalism that they claim licenses them to strike their child with repeated severity. I offer a few tongue-in-cheek examples of some biblical proverbs and a similar rigid literalism they use:
Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, and goes down smoothly (23:31).
White wine is fine. Drink up. Just stay away from the red stuff.
When you sit down to eat with a ruler, observe carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite (23:1-2).
I suggest a small Swiss Army knife. And don’t press too hard. Awkward. As for the “observation” part, I use a small pocket microscope, but I’m liberal. People who take God’s Word more seriously and literally wait until the lab results are back. Of course, the best way to avoid the awkward situation is either not to eat with rulers at all or stop by McDonald’s on your way so you have that pesky appetite dealt with.
Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate (22:22).
Crush them, if need be, but not at the gate. And, for crying out loud, don’t rob the poor! Rob the rich. Haven’t you seen Robin Hood?
By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches (24:4).
Prosperity theology is only partially right. It’s not prayer and faith, brothers! It’s knowledge! Go to school, get good grades, and God will fill those rooms!
If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken out from under you (22:27)?
Now, if you’re a person who sleeps on a Futon couch, don’t sweat it.
If one curses his father or his mother, his lamp will be put out in utter darkness (20:20).
No boy’s lamp, my brothers, will be able to withstand being put out forever if he curses his mama. No matter how good the battery life. Furthermore, since we’re on the topic of lamps:
Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin (21:4).
Wicked people’s lamps are bad, bad, bad. Be careful which garage sales you go to. Don’t buy just anybody’s lamps.
A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them (20:6).
He winnows them, brothers and sisters! WINNOWS them! Don’t you give me some lame, cultural metaphor stuff that shows your liberal tendencies. The Bible is clear. He’ll get some big fans and winnow the wicked right out. Furthermore, he will drive a wheel — probably a wheel from one of them big monster trucks– right over them.
But I must close my exposition of the proverbs with a heartfelt confession. I feel guilt and shame, but the Word is clear:
All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him (19:7).
I feel shame. My brother is dirt poor, but despite what the Word says, I kind of love him. But, oh! One more thing for you parents:
Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts (20:30).
Oh, my! I feel myself being worked up into a froth, brothers and sisters. The Bible says blows. Not some of this willy-nilly, namby-pamby, child-centered love-pats you call discipline. Blows! And “blows” means “blows!” The last time I checked my dictionary “wounds” mean open sores, broken skin. It’s no wonder your child still disobeys. You are not striking hard enough. It’s no wonder they are not clean inside. Give them blows!
I could go on, but it’s embarrassing. It is so ridiculous it should be obvious, but sadly, the “rod proverbs” are the main so-called biblical grounds that countless parents use to justify the unwarranted and ungodly harming of their children. The inconsistency of their “literal interpretation” is nowhere more easy to prove than in the Book of Proverbs itself. There is a lot of abuse that is happening and it is time that the opposition to it move from the shrill voices on the sidelines that are sometimes righteously, sometimes bitterly, calling attention to the scandal to center stage.
I believe that spanking is indeed allowed and, therefore, optional. But that is a long-shot from saying it is commanded and, therefore, freely at the disposition of parents to use whenever, however, and for whatever reason they may desire.