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Israel, I won’t lose my temper and destroy you again. I am the Holy God—not merely some human, and I won’t stay angry. Hosea 11:9 (CEV)

The difference between punishment and discipline hinges on the desired outcome. When a wrong is done, the human response is revenge. Those who do wrong must pay. It’s Justice.

What is it that gives the parent freedom in the courtroom to forgive the drunk driver that killed her child? What is it that empowers the father to visit the man in prison that molested his daughter? How can a spouse forgive when he/she has been cheated on, abused or humiliated? How can you forgive a God who claims to be loving but allows famine, cancer and war to tear the lives of people apart?

The answer boils down to a single word: value. It’s a matter of mercy over justice. Man seeks justice because justice demands repayment for sin. Punishment is the motivation for justice, but punishment will never fully repay for actions done.

To the mother that forgives the drunk driver, all the pain, all the anger, all the hatred and all the prison time in the world will never bring her daughter home. There is no amount of time in prison that will heal the scars the molester leaves on the life of a young girl. There is nothing that will heal a broken heart.

Man’s punishment is never intended to improve the life of the perpetrator. On the other hand, God seeks to amend, to build up, to correct. His actions are intended to correct an error so that the guilty person can continue on the journey stronger, more confident and more useful.

That’s not to say we should never send anyone to prison, or that justice should never be served. The justice system, flawed as it may be, is designed to physically protect us from those who would harm us, but that system was never intended to deal with issues of the heart.

God’s dealing with us is a simple case of mercy over justice; of natural consequences over penalty; of value over revenge. The two may look the same in some cases but one destroys value the other is intended to build character. One is motivated by love, the other by anger; one frees us, the other enslaves us; one brings eternal life, one brings eternal separation from a holy and loving God.

Whether you are sitting behind physical bars of a prison or emotional bars made from the scars of a life gone wrong, know this. The God of the universe isn’t into punishment for the sake of punishment; his goal in allowing you to go through whatever you are going through is to build character in you. He values you far beyond anything else in the world.

PRAYER: Lord, even though you have freed me through Jesus there are still times I want to keep others in the prison of their souls. There are times I live entrapped by my own guilt and shame. Help me to see the value you have in me and pass that value on to others. Amen.

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