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punitive – adjective: inflicting or intended as punishment. (Thanks to the lovely folks at Google Dictionary.)

If there’s one area of life I can claim deep familiarity with, it’s that of making mistakes. And not just any mistakes, mind you–the kind that make people cringe, that inspire head-shaking on a wide scale…the kind that prove the extent of my tendency towards self-destruction.

Against that background, the linking of “what” and “if” become inevitable, and how I torture myself. Whereas it is undoubtedly healthy to acknowledge that actions have consequences, being the extremist I am, I struggle with the idea that my life could be anything but a lost cause. When there’s a clear picture of what your life not just could, but should, have been…and it’s excruciatingly evident that the disparity between that and your reality can readily be attributed to your actions, hope proves elusive. 

“This is not punitive” — words that have been engraved into my subconscious, despite the raging battle to remember just how solid and life-altering they are. And I forget. Often. More often than I remember. When you’ve wrecked your own life, you begin to think you deserve whatever comes your way…if you’re anything like me, that is.

How very…human of me. If I wasn’t wise or powerful enough to do what was within my reach, by what stretch of the imagination would I then be able to set my life on an unalterable course? As crazy as life may be, as much as “this is my fault” rings true…this is not punitive.  

God definitely allows us to make our own choices, but He cannot act outside of His own nature. God is Love; He is Redeemer. He longs to lift us from pits of our own making. Our demise is never the goal of anything God does. Even when we have driven ourselves to destruction’s door, He can rescue, He can pull us back to Him. As a writer, that makes so much sense to me. Characters rarely follow precisely the path laid out for them, but they’re still only in the story. They’re not exercising sovereignty over the writing process, especially for the ending.

Why would I not trust the Author of Life to resolve convoluted conflicts of my own making…not trust Him to still give me a good story, even if it varies from the perceived original intention? Why not trust the One who made people, knowing they would fail–who put in place the perfect plan of salvation BEFORE sin was even imagined…before the first sinners were created? Why. Not?

No matter what we’ve brought upon ourselves, we have not moved ourselves beyond the reach of grace. True victory is not found in convenience, or even in a change of circumstance, but in the discovery of God’s heart–a heart overflowing with good intentions towards us, a heart that disciplines us out of love. The heart of the One who is with us in the agony of the wilderness, and has put grace there for us to find.

This…is…not…punitive. Maybe you need that reminder as much as I do.

Thus says the Lord:

“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when I went to give him rest.”
3 The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying:
“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.

Jeremiah 31:2,3
The Holy Bible, New King James Version
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.