Imagine you are one child in a big family; say, ten kids. You're an older kid with parents who, it has been assured to you by every other parent you've ever met, are the wisest and best parents ever. They are perfect at raising children as well as any child could be raised. You, however, are having trouble understanding why they seem to be raising your younger brothers and sisters differently.
One night, the younger five all get caught around dad's broken computer. All are guilty of the same crime but your parents treat each differently. For one child they send to bed without dinner when he is in trouble. Another child is allowed to eat but cannot play outside. Another must sit in the corner. Another is spanked. The last doesn't seem to be in trouble, and yet he is the one most often in trouble for breaking things.
To you, this seems so strange. How could your parents not offer the same punishment for what was obviously the same crime? And why are some punished but others seemingly let off? Do your parents love them differently? Are they just having fun with the kids? Why wouldn't the parents treat all the children exactly the same? And if they won't, I should, right? I should treat all of them with the same discipline style I think my parents would want. That's what they would want.
God loves all of us equally. He holds a special place for his children, and he makes the gift of his salvation equally available to all. He is our father, a father of billions. He has set rules in order to keep us safe from poor decisions and unhealthy living, just like every parent sets rules so their children can learn to live well.
His laws don't change, no matter who you are. We are all subject to them. But even God holds us to them differently. Not because he's injudicious, but because he IS judicious and wise. He knows where each of us are in our lives, our personalities, what we respond to and what really convicts us, and that will not be the same for everyone.
Each child that received a different punishment was awarded thusly because of who each child is. The child sent into the corner hated being alone but wouldn't mind skipping a meal. The child sent without food hated not eating but didn't care about being spanked. Another hated being spanked but loved staying inside. One loved going outside but didn't mind being sent to the corner. And the last one, who didn't seem to be punished at all, was going to be encouraged to do better rather than be punished for doing badly, because his parents knew that punishment would only make him angrier, but encouragement would offer him incentive to change.
Who in your life is facing a trouble and your first instinct is to go for the throat? Or to wonder why God isn't giving them their due? Or that you know exactly how to fix someone else's problems?
Meet John, a very lonely alcoholic who can't seem to break his addiction. Sometimes our first thought is to go after what seems the loudest element of the equation, what we think is most destructive. It's the alcohol, right?
But alcoholism, like most addictions, is a symptom, not a cause. It's a compounder, to be sure, but children aren't born alcoholics who begin to have relationship problems with their parents, friends an spouses, they are people with relationship problems who begin to abuse alcohol.
John is an alcoholic first because he is lonely and second because his body has grown dependent on the alcohol.
If we were to address only the alcohol, the foundational break in his soul that led him to alcohol will merely find another avenue of weakly attempting to fill the void left by bad parenting or a traumatic childhood event that isolated him from others, we'll never solve the actual problem. It's like opening up a cancer patient, cutting out his tumors and then sewing him back up. We've only cut out the symptoms of the body's chemical and programmatic imbalance that led to the growth of those tumors. It will only happen again and likely worse than before. If we address the root issue, then either the symptoms will clear themselves up or our later efforts to clean them out will at least have long-term results.
In John's case, we have to help him learn to connect with other people and build healthy relationships. While the alcoholism might still need to be dealt with, removing the emotional root of what drives him to it will make it infinitely easier to defeat later.
And ultimately, when it comes to people, no one is perfectly knowledgeable of the heart of any man but He who created us all. We are called to love, encourage, and among other believers, lovingly correct, but we are neither judge nor jury. It is for us to trust the Holy Spirit's Conviction, the Father's Judgement and the Son's Salvation to draw other men to the life in God. Is our job to show and encourage them along the way, as we all are equally deserving of punishment, and equally blessed with his offer of salvation.
Remember that next time you think you know the best way to fix other people's problems.