“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” – Proverbs 22:15
Discipline has never been in vogue. For some people, being severe seems to be the only thing left in life they still enjoy, but that’s not the same. Discipline seeks the welfare of the one receiving it. If a father is harsh and abusive to his son, he’s not driving out folly, he’s teaching savvy, fearful evasion.
On the other hand, there is an unfortunate recurring illness that infects large swaths of each generation, somehow persuading them that children are born in complete innocence. This inevitably leads to a rather nasty shock when little Davy kicks someone’s shin, or little Becky lies about her stolen candy. This proverb warns us not to be gullible. Folly, like a knot, is bound up in a child’s heart. And it’s not just children.
You might have had stellar parents, but we never outgrow the folly that lurks inside, plotting our self-destruction. So what good is discipline? An authority figure who enforces discipline helps people connect the dots between bad choices and negative consequences. Your parents and teachers did not invent that connection. Folly just encourages us to have selective memory.
Abusers sometimes hide behind this verse as an excuse to wail on their kid. The Bible holds a place for corporal punishment, but it never glamorizes it as an ideal. Finding commensurate disciplinary measures is an art, not a science. The goal is to model and imitate the natural consequences of life, not to rule with an iron fist.
No one person can comprehensively explain the repercussions of being chronically late, or rude, or deceitful, any more than one artist can capture the essence of the night sky. But if you are wise, you will want to discipline in such a way as to draw a miniature picture with recognizable themes from the rest of life. For instance, those who cannot play well with others will find themselves lonely and sad.
God perfectly disciplines us as his children. Because Jesus paid for our sins, He’s never vengefully punishing. Rather, God is driving folly out of our hearts. “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb 12:5-6).
If you are thick like me, sometimes God’s subtle messages do not get through, and He has to raise his voice. Fortunately, God never tires of parenting well. His discipline is all around us, in our blessings and our pain. It’s not always an A-B connection, like wet floors are always slippery, but we can be comforted by the fact that his purpose is always good, and the goal is always the same.
God wants us to be joyful, and he knows we only get that in our relationship with him. No matter how bad our folly, or how serious the discipline, we need to understand there is something greater at stake. God is always preparing you for real life, which means a better connection with him.