“Spare the rod, spoil the child” does not appear in the Christian Bible.

Did you know that?

I meet people all the time who are convinced that it is in there somewhere.

Rather, the saying seems to trace its origins instead to a poem by a guy named Samuel Butler in 1664.

And of course, there’s the Scriptural parallel found implicitly in Proverbs 13:24:

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son:

but he that loveth him chasteneth him diligently.”

What’s interesting is that fans of corporal punishment cling to these verses as advocating their particular parenting style, though they in fact say nothing of corporal punishment.

For many, the word “discipline” in the book of Proverbs means “corporal punishment.”

But it does not. Not there or anywhere really.

In fact, if anything, one could read into those proverbs, written by Solomon, exactly what not to do, since Solomon’s son Rehoboam grew up to become such a monster.

To be clear, if the reader believes Solomon to be advocating corporal punishment for children, then given the fact that Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became a widely-hated ruler after his father’s death, at one point even having to retreat to Jerusalem to avoid being assassinated, one may conclude that Solomon’s advice for parenting need not be heeded, at least not when understood as physical, corporate punishment.

(For real, 1 Kings 12.)

But that’s neither here nor there. This is not intended to be a criticism of corporal punishment.

It’s just that, recently, my oldest son Benjamin threw my youngest son Eli to the ground.


Benjamin is 6.

Eli is 4.

Benjamin, obviously, is much bigger and faster.

Eli had a toy Benjamin wanted. And he refused to share. So he ran away from Benjamin, who then gave chase and, using Eli’s own body weight and momentum against him, gave a shove that gained a lot of energy in the exchange, and landed him with a thud against the dirt and grass.

Eli cried.

Benj crossed his arms.

And something in me broke.

I sent Eli inside to be with Mom, while I kept Benjamin. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do with him, but I was fairly certain I was going to spank him.

This wasn’t a loss of control or a flare of the temper. This was a logical, well-thought-out, outer body type of conclusion. There was heat in my heart, but my thinking seemed totally intact.

Benj was in time-out as this internal dialogue took place.

In six years, I have never hit him. Not once. Every disciplinary measure I have ever taken has been unaided by a paddle. He’s not that child, and I’m not that parent. To be clear, I am not critical of corporal punishment, used properly. It is simply a form of punishment I choose not to use, given my background. I am not a parent who hits.

My parent was.

My father was.

In fact, it’s a big part of my story. After he nearly paralyzed me one night with the assistance of a Chuck Norris action figure, a toy that I had left out and that he had stepped on, causing the outburst, eliciting outrageous anger and turning old Chuck into a weapon instead of a plaything, after this tumultuous evening my mom left him.

She feared what would happen to her kids if she stayed.

Corporal punishment is personal to me. In the hands of healthy person, it seems effective. In the hands of a monster, it can have devastating consequences.

And since monsters don’t often know they are monsters until placed in a situation where they discover their alter egos, I decided years ago I would never put myself there.

So in six years, I have never hit my children.

But in that moment, having seen Benjamin cause Eli pain, I thought I was about to.

I thought Benjamin needed to know what it was like when someone bigger, older, and stronger, used that size and strength against him, powerlessly against his will.

But as he sat in time out and I mulled all this over, I felt the gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit.

That’s how He communicates most often, to me, you know. A nudge. A soft elbow to my abdomen.

“Hey,” he whispered. “Can we talk? Can we pray?”

It occurred to me that this wasn’t the story that I wanted to tell. And this wasn’t the message I wanted to send.

A mixed one?

“Hey, Benjamin, it’s not okay to beat up those smaller than you, so I’m going to violate you using my hands since I’m bigger and stronger than you.”


We’ve been going down this list of virtues that Peter recommends we add to our faith. And we’ve arrived at one of my favorites.

“Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance…” (2 Peter 1).

Patient endurance.

Scripture teaches that this is exactly how our God and Father relates with us, because He chooses to.

He could at any moment decide to bend us over His knee and beat us wildly. We are sinful and broken and sin not only deserves God’s wrath but it must be punished.

Not only does our sin elicit holy wrath,

but this wrath also has logical backing.

The two things I believed would have put me in the right in that situation should I have chosen to spank my son.

More, our sin rests squarely on us and resides inherently in us.

No one had to teach us how to sin.

No one had to teach my boys to fight.

I never took Benjamin aside to give lessons on how to hurt his younger brother. He just knew.

And he immediately also knew it was wrong.

(The Bible calls this shame.)

Usually, it’s the good behavior that we need training in. Hence 2 Peter 1.

And while God could choose not to patiently endure with us, and instead to simply punish us –

It’s not that He would be within His rights for this –

He needs no rights. For Him, there are no rights to be sought.

He is God.

What we know OF Him is what He has chosen to reveal OF Himself. But that’s not all OF Him.

He is GOD.

He created right and wrong.

He stands outside of it.

How dare we hold Him to standards He created?

Sometimes I catch a glimpse I think of just how much other He is, when my mind somehow stretches wide enough to drink in a gulp of that mystery, before closing back up since even that gulp is far too much.

He is God.

In Genesis 28, He (God) wrestles with Jacob for an entire night. Before touching Jacob’s hip and, in that touch, popping it out of socket.

Can you imagine how painful that would have been?

What a painful way for Jacob to learn,

“Listen, I am God. I choose to engage you. But lest you not forget- at any time, I could crush you.”

What a beautiful, powerful vision of this truth –

God chooses to engage with us. But we should never allow that engagement to cause us think too highly of ourselves, and we should never let that familiarity breed a contempt in us for how we engage with the God of the universe,

-who spoke it into existence,

-who numbers the hairs on our heads,

-who controls whether our hearts will beat another pulse,

-who chooses when we will breath our last,

-and who has chosen to reveal about Himself what little we know.

That’s not all He is.

That’s just all we know.

Every now and then I can stretch my mind wide enough to try and appreciate His love.

Do you ever try to do that?

Do you ever try to grasp the absurdity that He would even choose to know us?

I’m sitting out on a dock up in Pine Knoll Shores, NC. Watching heat lightning over the sound. And thinking how a story started in a desert thousands of years ago with Abraham, right after God made everything.

It started before cell phones or news cameras or printing presses.

This story had every reason to evaporate in that desert. No one would have ever been the wiser.

Somehow it persevered through every obstacle, and it made it from the desert to Egypt, then to the Promised Land, through Jerusalem and Rome, this little story that should have gone extinct, about a God who loves us and desires us. While every other religion said the opposite.

And it reached me even here on this dock, a tiny little unknowable nothing of a place in the middle of nowhere, and you, wherever you are.

Sometimes we ask questions about those who haven’t heard. “What will happen to them?”

Don’t ever forget the miracle that you have.

This story had no reason to reach you, but it did. As if God wanted so badly for you to know how passionately you are loved.

He kept a story going for thousands and thousands of years and even sacrificed His own Son for it. And that story found you.

That God found you.

Feels pretty special. Crazy and special.

I think sometimes the love we search for in others is a red herring. We long for it because we long to be loved, and to be known, and to still be loved anyway, despite being known.

What we search for in others we have in Him. And I think when we truly grasp the absurdity of it, we catch a little glimpse of the magnitude of it,

It makes everything else, even hurt, seem like background noise.

God patiently endures with us.

Because He loves us.

It’s absurd.

But His story has played out upon the canvas of Time. Even Time itself is something He created. And He stands outside of it, stooping to look down upon it. Entering in when He wants and ducking back out when He chooses.

Because He’s God. He does what He wants.

And this God chooses to patiently, gently, endure with us. To engage with us. Though He could crush us.


“Benjamin,” I said.

He stood up.

“Who is bigger, you or Eli?”

He answered, ashamed. But not sure yet where this was going.

“Because you’re bigger, you can hurt Eli, can’t you?”

He nodded.

“Who is bigger, me or you?”

You are.

“I could hurt you, couldn’t I? And you wouldn’t be able to stop me.

But because I’m bigger, God says my responsibility is to protect you. Not to hurt you.

My job is to make sure no one else ever hurts you, and that you learn how to make sure no one else ever hurts those smaller than you too.”

He processed, looking into my eyes, the heaviness of the situation dissipating, as he placed it all together in his head.


“Benjamin, God could have chosen to let you be born into any family on this planet. Did you know that?

He could have chosen for you to be born to any parents in the world, because you belong to Him. But He chose to let you be born to me and Mama. Do you have any idea how special that makes us feel?”

I paused, allowing some time for it to sink in.


“And He could have chosen for anybody to be born first into this family, but He chose you. God chose you. He chose you to be the oldest. To be first.”


“That makes me special,” he stated, finishing my train of thought for me, as he nodded confidently, waiting for approval.


“Yes. But it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Because you are the oldest, and you have been chosen by God to be the oldest in this family, God chose you to be the one who protects Anna Kate and Eli. Not the one who hurts them. Your job is to protect them. Because you are the first born, and God chose you.”

He stood up straight. Held his chin up.


“I’m so glad He let me be your daddy.”


I could have spanked him. But spanking someone to help them understand that hitting is wrong, seems, well, wrong.

This was a teachable moment.

Because of God’s patient endurance with us,

We are to patiently endure with others.

I thought, in that moment, that space between the cause and the response, what do I want this moment to look like for him, when he flashes back to it one day?

I want this on the highlight real.

I want for Benjamin to think of his father’s patient endurance.

And for that patient endurance to point him to his Father’s patient endurance with all of us.

I want him to make every effort to point other people to his God.

That’s a story worth telling.


So what about you?

I want you to read back over those words above, the words I shared with Benjamin.

We are told in Scripture that God chooses where and when people are born. Every event, every detail of their lives, is scheduled. More, although we do not know how this plays out theologically, we are told that He chooses who will know Him. This is not a theological statement. I will not try to uncurl it or even it out with personal responsibility or freewill. This is a Scriptural statement. God chose for you to be reading this right now.


What will you do with what you have heard?

What has He called you to?

If He chose where and when you would BE, and He chose for you to know Him, there must be a purpose.

Your life is on purpose.

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