Sadly, the very word has been contaminated by its association with something diametrically opposed to discipline—abuse. It is extremely common for abusers to try to hide their crimes under the once untainted label of discipline.
Here is biblical wisdom: “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).
And, a testimony from the Psalmist that discipline’s role is to protect. “Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked” (Psalm 94:12-13).
C.S. Lewis elaborates on this truth in “A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost.’”
Discipline, while the world is yet unfallen, exists for the sake of what seems its very opposite—for freedom, almost for extravagance. The pattern deep hidden in the dance, hidden so deep that shallow spectators cannot see it, alone gives beauty to the wild, free gestures that fill it, just as the decasyllabic norm gives beauty to all the licences and variations of the poet’s verse. The happy soul is, like a planet, a wandering star; yet in that very wandering (as astronomy teaches) invariable; she is eccentric beyond all predicting, yet equable in her eccentricity.
It is precisely because of this, the genuinely noble and affectionate character of genuine discipline that I was so deeply repulsed (and moved) by the following story. It comes from the fine journal, First Things.
A friend who corresponds with prisoners on death row sends one prisoner’s poem describing the horrific abuse he endured as a child. He tells her that most of the men on death row with him suffered that kind of abuse. The poem, titled “Spare the Rod” and addressed to his father, begins with the story of his sister’s beatings, and continues:
Then came a son to intercede,
a five-year-old you caused to bleed;
he would not flee your spit and roar,
you smashed his face into the floor.
And those were just the better years.
What shall you find at heaven’s gate?
What shall be a father’s fate
who reveled in his children’s screams
who haunts them still in all their dreams?
You took your children meek and mild,
and beat them feral, stomped them wild.
You’ve now moved on to spar with God,
Who spares the child and breaks the rod.