Much has been written about the training of children, and especially the need to discipline in love. Correcting your child’s sin while your nose is burning in anger is just as much of a sin as the one you are attempting to deal with. Disciplining in love requires that your motivation be corrective, and not punitive. But Solomon’s wisdom gives us another virtue to temper our discipline with: hope. So how does hope affect child-training?
When Solomon speaks about “setting your heart on putting your child to death”, he isn’t rebuking parents who are excited about the prospect as much as he is encouraging parents who are about to throw in the discipline towel. They’ve spanked, rebuked, exhorted, and restored their child to fellowship a thousand times, but it doesn’t seem like it’s working. They have diligently instructed their young one in the way of righteousness, and in the much more frequently trodden path of repentance and forgiveness, and yet their evaluation of their child is still a negative one overall: our child is selfish. Our child is disobedient. Our child hates authority. Our child cares more about what his friends think than what we think. Our child toes the line, but yearns for the day when he doesn’t have to listen to us anymore. Our child is in love with the world.
God speaks a word of exhortation to parents in precisely this context: Discipline your son, for there is hope. Hope is an eager expectation of future blessings. Hope that is seen, or presently experienced, isn’t hope at all. Discipline is a discipline – your responsibility as a parent is to trust that God knows what He’s doing when He tells you how to correct your child, even when the immediate returns suggest otherwise. God shapes you as a parent through discipline, teaching you to exercise faith for the future as you correct your child, and train them in righteousness.
God is a parent, a Father. As we seek to imitate His parenting style, we should think about His evaluation of His children, of ourselves. God looks at our lives, and instead of despairing over how petty we are, how quickly we jump on the throne and attempt to run our lives, and how much we are in love with the world, He disciplines us in hope. God’s hope for us is that the work of the Holy Spirit whom He has placed within us will slowly change us over many years, so that we will look more like Jesus. And God’s hope does not disappoint!
Biblically speaking, hoping is not wishing. When we casually say “I hope so”, we’re not evoking the scriptural virtue of hope. Hope is future-oriented, but that doesn’t mean that the hope is uncertain, just because we don’t know the future. Our God is sovereign over the future, and when we put our hope in Him and in His promises for our children, our hope becomes a sure and certain anchor for the soul. It’s just as safe to hope that God will use our discipline to shape our children into wise men and women as it is to hope that the sun will come up tomorrow, inasmuch as both of these things happen through the word of God. Don’t lose your hope in parenting at 3am!
Hopeful parenting is parenting that continues to obediently discipline for the forty-fifth time in a day, for the same offense as last week, even though our child has always been like this, because we trust that God is faithful, and His ways are perfect. Hopeful parenting always qualifies any assessment of a child: the hopeful parent never says, “Our child loves the world.” Instead, the hopeful parent says, “Our child may love the world today…” And in hope, faithful, loving discipline continues to shape our children into the image of Christ.