My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.

– Proverbs 3:11-12

“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is overused as a defense of spanking. (It is also not entirely biblical — read Proverbs 13:24 and see how Solomon actually finished the phrase.) I prefer this one: “The Lord reproves him whom he loves.”

Before implementing this passage as a parental mandate, I take it first as a personal reminder that God’s love compels him to discipline. It is not primarily about how God wants me to interact with my children (and it says nothing about spanking), but it delivers what I consider to be the most important principle of discipline: Love.

Love, not pain, is what makes discipline effective. This is why a quiet word of rebuke can be absolutely devastating.

There are worse things than a spanking, both in terms of physical pain and psychology. Is the child who never has to endure a spanking but also never hears praise from his father any better off? Do you think there is an inmate somewhere who would trade his life sentence in a cage for a few strategic moments of comparatively insignificant pain when he was a boy?

When we were just starting out as parents, my wife and I agreed that it was our responsibility to train our children to respond to the word “No.” This realization came as a result of raising a “runner” — a boy who loved to race down aisles and around corners no matter where we were. What scared us was the thought of our little roaming toddler running toward a busy street without a healthy fear of his parents’ word.

Thankfully, God has wired the human psyche with a short cut to memorize with relative ease all the things we should never do again. It’s called pain. Physical pain. We don’t like it, we have an intense psychological aversion to it, and therefore it is a powerful teacher.

In Isaiah’s case, we were more than happy to preempt the potentially life-ending pain of being run over by a car with a few spankings that would teach him when to stop running. As a bonus, he learned to respond in every other situation when we meant business. All of a sudden, we had a toddler who, while active and vocal, was not constantly embarrassing us in public. Spanking worked. And he was not irreparably damaged by it; in fact, he seemed happy to understand his boundaries.

I delight in my children, and they know it. From his first spankings, I would tell my toddler as soon as the spoon had been set aside that I love him even when he’s being naughty. The modern supposition that loving parents could never strike their children is not only patently false; it’s the reason why so many people — not just children now, but people of all ages — are literally out of control. I once sat in a coffee house and watched a table full of 3rd- and 4th-graders shoot spit wads at the window while the mothers chatted at the next table. My concern, my first thought, was what those kids from Starbucks will be doing as young adults. How will those mothers feel about their progressive parenting methods when the narcissism of untrained hearts begins to manifest?

With all of that said, I do believe there are times when a spanking can be abusive. If the goal in the heat of the moment is humiliating my child, or venting my frustration, or anything other than a loving desire to train his unruly spirit, then any form of punishment will be abusive. Abuse resides in the heart of the abuser, not in the instrument of its expression. But the fact remains that some parents are excessive in the way they mete out physical discipline.

Nor is spanking a guarantee of delightful children. Life is too complicated, and emotions too complex, for that to be true.

But you will read plenty in this column about spanking because, well, Dorinda and I have spirited children. It’s the only kind we know how to make. We want them to grow up to be productive, self-controlled members of society — and, more importantly, to know how to profit from God’s refining touch later in life. (If only His correction was as tolerable as a spanking.)

And I believe in transparency. So you will read about it here. I’m sorry if it offends you, but not really. What I really am is exhausted by the “experts” and know-it-all parents (not to mention the childless peanut gallery) who so loudly decry a method by which millions of well-balanced, cheerful children have been and are being raised. Dorinda and I are satisfied before God and one another that we do not abuse our children, and frankly, we’re too busy to care about satisfying anyone else. On behalf of parents everywhere who spank their children because they love their children, the disapproval will continue to be ignored.

“Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
{Psalms 30:4-5}
“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”   {Romans 8:13-17}