Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Over Discipline Distorts Our View of God

Some parents over discipline their children, punishing them harshly for transgressions and mistakes. Such punishment is based on fear and greatly wounds those children.

One of the wounds inflicted by over discipline is a distorted view of God. Instead of seeing God as patient, kind, merciful and loving, a child learns to see Him as an angry authoritarian ready to smash us over the head with a brick every time we sin or take a wrong step.

I remember reading the Old Testament as a teenager, and as my view of God was distorted by having been over disciplined as a child, I saw God as being impatient, quick to judge and ready to bash me over the head if I ever took a step out of line. I over reacted to every mistake or sin I committed, even punishing myself, even though I doing my utmost to follow Him.

Although we have 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,' Romans 3:23, and deserve to be judged and held accountable for those sins, God did not abandon us to such a fate. God is love, and This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10.

Although I knew Jesus since my early childhood, when I was nineteen I had a personal encounter with Him that changed my life completely. He gave me a revelation of the depth of His love for me, a love so deep, so powerful, that it completely changed my worldview. I read the entire Bible again in the months that followed, and this time, I did not see an angry God ready to punish us the instant we took a step out of line, but for the first time, I saw a God who was very patient, slow to anger, and full of love. I saw a God who lovingly disciplines those He cares for in order to turn them from waywardness and be restored to wholeness, everlasting life, and fellowship with Him.

I echo the words of Paul, in that I wish everyone could know just how much Jesus loves us. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses -knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19.

Unfortunately, I still carried deep wounds from being over disciplined, and hence much of the counselling I received while suffering from depression was spent addressing the lingering irrational fears I still harboured that God was an impatient and angry authoritarian.

From my diary: 18/2/90 - I'm terrified of disobeying God...I live as though He has a detailed plan for my life and if I take one wrong step, I'll mess up the whole thing. I have this concept that if I disobey Him or mess it up even once, that nothing good I've done before - ever - counts for anything anymore, and that my whole future will be stuffed.

Why did I react like while depressed? It was because of the over discipline that I had received as a child, where one of my parent’s reactions to my disobedience or mistakes was to tell me that I was useless, that each transgression or mistake nullified and cancelled out all previous good behaviour, and that I would grow up to be a complete failure.

Eventually, as a result of counselling, Bible reading and prayer, I finally came to the place where I truly believed and understood that The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Psalm 145:8. This was a truly liberating thing to learn and to know.

There is a very big difference between loving discipline and punishment/over discipline, since punishment tries to generate obedience and good behaviour through fear.

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15. Jesus did not say, “If you love me, prove it by obeying me.” I do many things for my wife and children, yet I do not force myself to do them - I delight in doing things for them because I love them. That is why we obey Jesus, we delight in obeying Him because we love Him so much - it is a spontaneous reaction to our love for Him. And why do we love Jesus so much? It is because He loved us first, a love He demonstrated by dying on the Cross in our place, to pay for our sins. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Over discipline with its fear of punishment is not an effective motivator to do what is right, for there is no love in it. God’s system of love is the perfect motivator. The Bible teaches that we should discipline our children with love, with the goal of guiding them in the way they should go. There is no fear associated with such discipline - it is replaced by respect.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:16-18

All verses from the NIV.


  1. How true! Many parents could benefit from reading this, and their children would thank you. Of course, as you pointed out, it's all contained in God's Word as well. Great post!

  2. I'm so glad I'm subscribed to receive your new posts through my email. This is a good reminder for not just over-discipling parents but as well for some that may potentially be heading that way.

    As a parent sometimes it doesn't seem to take much to bring out the frustrations when our children disobey us whether intentionally or not, and this message (post) is a great read for even the cool, calm and collected mother and father...

  3. Great informative post Peter. Thank you! Blessings.

  4. The Bible has the best definition of how to discipline our kids, so true.

  5. That was a very powerful message. I will be pondering on this today. I have never looked at the damage that over discipline can cause. As parents sometimes we are quick to jump on faults and slow to praise good.

    Have a great day!

  6. Thanks Peter for this post, I have some distored images of God because of what you shared in your post and it is good to know that I am not the only one. Having those images of God has had a bad effect in my relationship with the Lord. But by His grace, He is healing me. Blessings.

  7. Carrie @ comfortedbyGod.blogspot.com

    You've touched on a subject that many of us parents are secretly afraid we've fallen victim to: over-disciplining. Certainly, I hope I'm not training my children inappropriately, but you've caused me to pause, and take a closer look at my parenting skills. I like your honest approach to writing.

  8. There is a vey fine line we tread as parents. Nice piece. Thanks for visiting my blog!