Should Parents Discipline Their Children When Angry?

I once heard a pastor say: “All displays of anger are sinful.” It’s also been said that parents should never discipline their children in anger. Is that true? When Johnny foments discord, or hits his sister, or disrespects his mother, is it ever valid for his father to show anger in voice or mannerisms? Consider this.

First, there are a number of causes for anger, some good and some bad. Some evil roots would be rejection (Gen. 4:5), a lack of love (1 Cor. 13:5) and the desire to repay evil for evil (1 Pt. 3:9). Men no doubt battle the sin of anger more than women do (1 Tim. 2:8). Some positive causes of anger would be Spirit-filling (1 Sam. 11:6) and seeing the hardheartedness of others (Ps. 7:11, Neh. 5:6-7).

Second, Christians are encouraged by precept and example to be angry but in control. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul gives an imperative: “Be angry and do not sin.” The Greek verb behind this command is used often in the LXX, both of man’s anger and God’s. The examples are laden with emotion, as when Jacob berates his father-in-law for pestering his family (Gen. 31:36) and Moses is irate at Israel’s idolatry (Ex. 32:19).

Third, we cannot say that anger is intrinsically evil, since God often expresses His fury. God is said to “burn” with wrath (Ex. 22:24) everyday (Ps. 7:11), this often toward his covenant people (Jdg. 2:14). God, however, always controls His anger—never sinning in the process.

Fourth, human anger should be emotional. Are we really to believe that Jesus internalized all of His wrath, biting His lip as wickedness abounded around Him? In Mark 3:5, Jesus is “angry”, this word followed by “grieved” to show the strong emotional aspect of Jesus’ wrath. Jesus was even aggressive in His anger (Mt. 21:12).

Fifth, and this is where we answer the question about parents, the Bible is loaded with qualifiers regarding anger. Christians should control their anger (Pr. 14:29), confront people directly (Mt. 5:21-22), avoid befriending angry people (Pr. 22:24-25), use soft words (Pr. 15:1), and learn to assuage people’s anger by de-emphasizing their own accomplishments (Jdg. 7:24-8:3). But never are people, and parents specifically, told to avoid anger altogether. It is true that Ephesians 4:31 tells us to put away “wrath”, but this is certainly an anger that is malicious in nature.

Moreover, all emotions, just like words, communicate something. When Suzie excels, we affirm with words and all the smiles and clapping motions. When our ten year-old is in a moment of rebellion, why should we feel more godly when we say with a stoic face and measured tone: “Son, sassing your mother was not the best thing to do. Please go to your room”? Jay Adams observes: “Anger in administering disciplinary codes must be thought of as within the code. Modern advice that parents should never administer discipline when angry is not biblical. Because anger is not wrong, one apologizes not for anger, but only, for instance, for losing one’s temper in the discipline of children.”

If anger should be emotionless, how are our children to tell which things angers father the most? Is it when the football team loses, when he hammers his thumb, or when his children disrespect authority? In most homes, the former two come with high emotion. Parents would do best to move that emotion to the latter, being sure to accompany this anger with all of the Scripture’s qualifiers.

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