December 7, 1993
“I can’t figure out why I have to sit in here and rot. This is a unfair and a waste. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The fellow who said this was an inmate in a prison. He had committed a crime and received the death penalty. Since the appeal process can take years, his sentence had not been implemented. He was bored and grumbling. We listened to him on a television documentary that featured interviews with several men in prison. A few of them were quite sorry for what they had done. They knew they deserved their penalty, even some who were on death row. As we watched, I wondered about their attitudes. How can someone kill another person and think their punishment, whatever it might be, is unjust? What kind of mental attitude is behind their complaints? Why would anyone think they should not be disciplined?
One of the wisest men in the world, King Solomon, noticed a truth relevant to these attitudes. He said, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11).
Solomon was not thinking about the long wait for retrials and appeals. Rather, he referred to the time between the crime and the punishment. It could have been that people were not being caught for their crimes, or they were caught but not punished as the law demanded. In any case, the punishment was supposed to be a deterrent and when it did not happen, those who were guilty were reinforced in the idea that they could commit more crime and get away with it.
When discipline is eventually enforced, such a criminal would hate it and the punishment would not serve its purpose: that of correcting their behavior. In fact, Solomon also wrote: “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).
The word “stupid” has some unfair implications in our minds so I checked out the Hebrew word it was translated from. It means “brutish” as a beast, probably contrasting an animal’s inability to reason with our ability to think logically. In so many words, the proverb mean a person who hates being corrected is without the ability to reason. To that person, cause and effect do not make any sense and being punished for what they do is irrational.
What about those who commit crimes and never get caught? Have they any advantage? Certainly they do not go through the agonies of being corrected or punished, but Solomon didn’t think these people had any advantage. He said further in Ecclesiastes 8, “Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.”
Certainly living longer in this life is not the point. Those who reason that being corrected is “unfair” and receiving discipline is a “waste” have illogically assumed that getting away with crime, sin, or even error, will make their life better than it would be if they were experiencing the blessing of God.