It is one of life’s most disturbing moments. Our beautiful child, the apple of our eye, looks into that same eye and lies to us. He, without shame, violates the trust that we have built up for so long. Our instinct is to recoil in horror. And that is appropriate because sin is that wicked and the harm a small child can inflict upon their parent is proof of that fact. Like with Adam, that one act threatens to cast them out of the paradise of our heart.
The child must then be disciplined because our God has commanded it in His Word. Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” There are consequences for sin beginning with Adam’s fall and our children must know how horrific this is at a time in their lives when the consequences of sin are less serious than they will be. Not less sinful mind you. Rebellion against God is always punishable by (someone’s) death.
Discipline must always be done in a loving manner, not divorcing ourselves from the child but using the discipline to draw them back in from the darkness of where sin has them to the light of their loving family. It’s about the restoration of the sinner and justice for the victim. There is no room for vengeance. They have, by their own behavior, divorced themselves from the parents who are in authority over them or separated themselves from their siblings and in all cases have fled from the warm embrace of their God.
The discipline confronts the offender with their sin, asks them to acknowledge their rebellion, brings them to a show of repentance and then offers forgiveness and acceptance. The act must have all of these elements. The sinner, like the Prodigal Son, should be disabused of the shame they feel and wrapped in the loving embrace of a father who has run to hug them and then prepares the feast of celebration for this son who has returned to the fold.
A critical part of discipline is giving justice where it is due. Our children should see discipline administered in their defense because our God punishes the evil-doers as part of His love for us. Because the law of God is love and protection, the victim needs to know that they are going to be safe (for example) from their sibling’s wrath. The law protects both parties, the one from wrath, the other from the effects of their own sin. The parent points out the violation, handles it with discipline and then seeks the reconciliation between the warring parties. The wronged party needs to forgive as their part of the restoration process. Both children in this instance see that God is love, His law is love, the parent’s work in discipline is love and the reconciliation of the siblings fosters love.
There is ample room for mercy in God’s economy for He is, as He describes Himself to Moses, “Merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”
We parents too often forget (like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18) of the great debts forgiven on our behalf and approach our children’s debt with the heat of a thousand suns. Woe to us! Sin is something we share with our children; we are equal with them before God as His children and our temporary role as their caretaker cannot be abused or we drive our child to wrath. Praying for wisdom helps.