I am recently taking a HarvardX Course on “Child Protection: Children’s Rights in Theory and Practice”. Within it, there is a segment on Nurturing Care Interventions by Dr. Aisha Yousafzai, where she pointed out the importance for a caregiver to be sensitive to a child and to appropriately respond to the child. She went on to explain the importance to find ways to discipline the child in a way that is not harmful and not harsh, but in a way that can teach and to guide. On top of this, she noted that instead of using harsh discipline which will cause harm to the child, caregivers should provide stable and responsive care for the child.
At this, I thought of the form of discipline that the Heavenly Father uses to discipline His beloved children. People use to think that the Heavenly Father endorses domestic and institutional corporal punishment. Some times, even I thought this way. After all, it was written, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them” (Proverbs 13:24, NIV). Oh, and let’s not forget, David wrote that “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalms 23:4, NIV). Violent much? In fact, these are not the only verse that speaks of God’s discipline. The Bible is filled with notions of “physical discipline” that is “severe” (Psalms 118:18), causes one to feel “weary” (Proverbs 3:11-12), include potential slavery and the loss of their homeland (Jeremiah 30:11), and is painful even though it will yield certain results in future (Hebrews 12:3-11). On the surface, it is starting to look like God is a violent Father with the impulse to discipline harshly. But thing is though, as I thought of it, I am starting to question if this is really the true nature of God. I mean, is He really, that violent?
Having grown up in a pro-corporal punishment family in a pro-corporal punishment society that endorses caning and even the death penalty, I always thought that the notion of corporal punishment is okay. Sometimes, I even thought that it is something to be encouraged. Things changed, however, when I saw how my ex girlfriend, Bao Yee, punishes children in her shelter when they go against her instructions — the beatings, the shoutings, and the violence. Though she justify it by saying she did not really hurt them (and there is no way for me to prove otherwise because the children would testify against it), it really got me thinking if sparing the rod will really spoil the child, or will using the rod spoil the child (in the form of increasing the child’s risk factors by increasing the likelihood of negative experience and health outcomes… And trauma). And yes, pun intended.
As I ponder about the loving-nature of our Heavenly Father, a couple of Jesus’ analogies came into mind. I was reminded that the Heavenly Father is a loving Father who will wait at the gate of the house, regardless of what the prodigal son did to him. In the story, when the Father saw the son coming back, He ran to the son, threw His arms around him, kissed him, placed the best robes on him, put a ring on his finger, gave him a sandal, prepared a feast for him, and welcomed him home (ref: Luke 15:20-24). In this analogy, the Father did not show any form of anger or violence. There were no form of corporal punishment instituted.
Building onto this case, we consider the time when Jesus had a meal at the tax collector’s house. Jesus appear to have this strong connection with people who are not-morally-acceptable. In Scriptures, we read that Jesus was dining with “a large crowd of tax collectors and sinners”. When confronted by the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, Jesus rebuked them and stood by these people claiming that “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick,” and that He had “not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:27-32; Mark 2:13-17). So it appears to me that these people who have gone astray knew that they needed Christ. They knew who He is and the also knew what they deserve. But Jesus, being to embodiment of the law (ref: Romans 10:4; Matthew 5:17), embraced these people with no form of punishment, whatsoever; only love and care manifested in the form of a meal (a feast for the prodigal son and a meal at the Levi’s house).
So it brings me to my next point. Wouldn’t the over-emphasis of love have negative impact on the child’s development? Wouldn’t the unconditional acceptance of the child, regardless of what the child’s fault is, completely spoil the child?
Coming back to the Heavenly Father, these people who came to Jesus appears to know exactly who He is. They knew that Jesus is God’s Chosen One. They knew that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him. There is a sense of fear and reverence that surrounds Him. They knew that He speaks with authority and power (ref: Mark 1:22; Matthew 7:28-29). It is this fear and reverence that solidifies Jesus’ status in the hearts of the disciples. It is this fear that caused them to know that He is different. It is this fear that made them know that they must respect Him. The knowledge of Divine appointment made people tremble with fear. But on the other hand, when love was exhibited while maintaining the aura of Divine appointment, a safe environment with a clear sense of leadership is established. In this environment, people do not need to fear whatever that is happening around them. In this environment, people will know that there is someone whom they can run to; someone they can look up to; someone who will be there in times of need. In this environment, because authority is upheld, there is an unspoken sense of rest and peace knowing that He will take care of it all for us. In this environment, we will know that all our needs are deeply known and will be provided for.
Parents have the God-given authority over their children. It is only right and pleasing to God for children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1, Colossians 3:20). However, the difference between parenthood and the Heavenly Father is this — Heavenly Father cares for the entire human race while parents only needed to care for those who are under their charge. God did not call us to care for the children of other family unless we feel compelled to. God did not ask us to provide care for every children in the neighbourhood. God only called us to care for our own. We need to uphold the authority God has given us by doing what is right — Teach your children the decrees and the laws of God “so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life” (Deuteronomy 6:2). “Impress them (God’s Words) on your children. Talk about them (God’s law) when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
When children recognises that there is a law governing how you parent them, they will learn to fear the law that is above it all. They will learn the importance of revering God and what it meant to fear Him. Over time, the children will learn that there is a clear sense of leadership in the family and that they will have no need to fear regardless of what is happening around them. And if the child is met with any form of danger, they will know exactly who to run to, knowing exactly who will be there whenever they are faced with any form of issue. Such is the environment that God is teaching us to form within our families.
When we parent our children just as how God parent us, we will begin to see a change in our children’s lives. Over time, we will see that the environment that we are building for our children become safer for their development; the positive factors for our child’s growth and development will also start to show in the physical, emotional, and psychological health of our family.Image by Olya Adamovich from Pixabay
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