Pain can be a great teacher indeed. As any parent of a toddler will tell you, there are lessons that very young children will not learn without a spanking. Of course, mothers and fathers must make sure that their acts of discipline never cross the line into abuse, that they discipline their sons and daughters out of love and not out of exasperation. Nevertheless, properly administered physical discipline is an act of love, and as the Bible indicates, those who spare the rod are hating their children and not showing them love and affection (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13–14; Heb. 12:7–11).
When physical discipline is applied properly to disobedient children, kids walk away with a greater sense of the consequences of their disobedience. Parents show love in this way by acting to curtail bad behavior now so that it will not ruin the lives of their sons and daughters when they are adults. In fact, as today’s passage indicates, physical discipline is able not only to put a check on outward misbehavior but also, at least on occasion, to be an instrument for inward change: “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; strokes make clean the innermost parts” (Prov. 20:30).
Of course, physical punishment in itself is no guarantee that the heart will be changed. Still, God can—and often does—use the crucible of physical affliction to get our attention, to impress upon us the need for a change of heart, to bring us to the end of ourselves in order that we might find repentance, healing, and godliness. To see an excellent example of this, we need only to turn to the Chronicler’s account of Manasseh, who was perhaps the most wicked king in the history of ancient Judah. According to 2 Chronicles 33:1–20, Manasseh’s incredible wickedness led finally to his being dragged off by the nose into Assyrian servitude. As a result, Manasseh experienced a change of heart and turned to the Lord. The Lord used severe physical hardship to bring Manasseh to faith, demonstrating that pain is no less an excellent teacher when it comes to spiritual matters than in other areas of life.
If good parents will lovingly use physical discipline as a means for getting to the hearts of their children and teaching them what is right and wrong, we can expect God, our perfect Father in heaven, to do no less. This does not mean all of our physical pain is discipline for specific sins, but it does mean we should pay attention when we suffer, for the Lord may be using it to cleanse our hearts and bring us to repentance.