A reader in Norway writes in: “Hello Pastor John, thank you for all that you have done for the kingdom and for this podcast. I have a question regarding child rearing. You have formerly said that you would go to jail over the issue of spanking. I agree with you that spanking is biblical. But in my home country, Norway, as well as in many other countries, spanking is illegal. The consequences would then not only be that one may have to go to jail, but that the government would take your children. This has now happened in the famous Boudnariu case where a couple in Norway lost their children after spanking them.
[UPDATE: The children have been returned].
In cases such as these, one may never get one’s children back again, because the government may not see you as a suitable parent because you spanked your children. What would you do as a Christian parent in Norway? Wouldn’t it be better to NOT spank your children and be sure that your children will never be taken away from you? This is a big issue with huge consequences for us in Norway.”
For sure, this is an important topic and has great consequence — and Norway is not the only country. You can go online and see a graph of the countries in Europe and around the world where it is illegal to spank, and that is only increasing.
I read about the Boudnariu case some time ago. The government took away five children from this family with, in my judgment, it seemed, no evidence of child abuse. I came away from that story feeling the way Jesus did in Mark 3:5 where it says, “He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of hard” — anger and grief, anger and grief, the mingling of those two emotions. You can’t help but feel them in this situation. All five children were seized by the Norwegian government and, as far as I can tell, there was no evidence of child abuse. It is an ideological difference about the best way to raise your kids.
And yes, I have said that I would go to jail over this. In other words, if they wanted to put me in prison because I believe that the best way to love my children was to spank them sometimes when they were disobedient, I wouldn’t sacrifice that conviction or that behavior to stay out of jail. But, of course, that kind of protest and threat is of no use when the person about to be put in prison is not yourself, but your children. And yes, I know they are not being put in jail. But the point is it is similar. They are being legally kidnapped from the family and put in places they don’t want to be. And so the willingness of the parents to go to jail is not the issue anymore. So when I said that, I probably wasn’t thinking as realistically as is proving to be the case.
So, the question for our friend in Norway — and other countries, I am sure — is: Should we risk losing our children to the highhanded tactics of the state, or should we relent in spanking our children? And, of course, there are many related questions that Christians in Norway and other countries are facing like: What does a pastor preach? I don’t know what the legal ramifications are if he preaches the true biblical teaching. Does he tell the people what the Bible says and encourage them to obey, or does he just ignore parts of the Bible, or does he show them how to compromise? How do parents teach their children the Scriptures? Do they skip those parts of the Bible in telling their children how to raise their children? And if they teach their children, what will they say if the children say: Why don’t you spank us since the Bible says you should?
Now, of course, the issues are far deeper than simply the nature of parental discipline. There is a view of human nature at work here that will have repercussions everywhere. There is a view of how to restrain bad behavior and get good behavior from children that the state evidently thinks is less psychologically damaging than simple, measured, loving spanking.
The issue here is not merely how kids behave in later life. Are they well-adjusted or maladjusted? That is not the main issue. But rather, the issue is how they view the whole world — especially themselves and God. That is the great issue, which, of course, the Norwegian government does not take into account, but which is the most important issue in the world. According to Hebrews 12, God himself uses corporal punishment. And treating kids differently will not serve well to help them know God and love God and believe in the God of Hebrews 12 and his holiness and his mercy. Of course, governments don’t take into account these great issues. They are only thinking at a very narrow, natural, historical, societal level — not a cosmic level, not an eternal level that includes heaven and hell and salvation and obedience to God and eternal destinies and the exaltation of the glory of God. None of that matters to governments, but it should matter infinitely to Christian parents.
So, if I lived in Norway, what would I do? I would pray earnestly for wisdom. I would not assume that this is a simple either-or situation. God is a God of wonders. God is a God of miracles. He has ways out of dilemmas that seem hopeless. We can’t think of any alternatives, but he can. He splits the Red Sea. That was an alternative nobody thought of. He stopped the sun in the sky. That was an alternative nobody thought of. He raises the dead. He walks on water. “All things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). So I would pray earnestly that God would show me a way to be obedient to God and keep, keep, keep my children. And if I really had to choose between spanking my children and losing them to the state and I knew it was a necessary choice, of course, I would choose keeping my children over spanking them. That is the answer he was looking for, probably.
This is not choosing disobedience over obedience, because it would be disobedient to surrender your children to the state. One thing is crystal clear in the Bible: God holds parents accountable for the raising of their children, not the state — which leads to one other consideration: leaving a country where you can’t exercise your faith legally. America was founded by people who did that. They left their homelands so that they could exercise their faith in the way that they thought they should, and they were coming to an absolute wilderness. Half of them died in the process, which shows how important it was. And I have had people come to my church here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA from Europe because they wanted to homeschool their children and weren’t allowed to in the country they came from. I know it is happening today.
So, I will pray for my brothers and sisters in lands like Norway where increasingly unjust and evil laws put the Christian between two terrible choices. And we are all moving toward that situation, and we will need great courage and great wisdom.