June 14, 2015

Repentance, Forgiveness, and Consequences

Just a few thoughts on, as the title suggests, repentance, forgiveness, and consequences.

Many of you may be familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba (if not, you may read it here). You may also be familiar with David's prayer in Psalm 51 (here),

In Psalm 51, David makes a most curious assertion when he says to God, "against you, you only, have I sinned." Having performed an even cursory reading of the story, we know that David has either coerced Bathsheba into adultery, or (perhaps more likely) simply used his power as king to demand her "services". At best he's led her into sin, at worst he's raped her. Then we have her husband, Uriah, whose wife has been used sexually by a man to whom he has been exceedingly loyal, and continues to be, even after the fact. And when Bathsheba becomes pregnant, David tries to trick Uriah into coming home and making this look like his kid; when that fails, he has him purposefully killed in battle. Those are the parties immediately affected, but think also of the nation. Their king has failed to go to war when he should have, plunged himself into sexual sin and the resulting cover-up, and now has brought blood-guilt upon himself. Woe to you, oh land, when your king is a fool. David has, in a very real sense, sinned against the entire nation of Israel.

And yet, God accepts this repentance as genuine and forgives David. From which I think we may learn two primary things.

First, the nature of repentance. David sees his sin as primarily against God. I believe that the weight of his statement in Psalm 51:4 that against God alone he has sinned is meant not so much to deny the reality of his sin against other people as to point to the fact that all sin is ultimately, finally, fully against God. Our injury to others is a result of our rebellion against God, not vice versa. The earthly damage left in its wake is collateral damage, if you will, of the original sin. A heart that desired to serve God would have served his people sacrificially, rather than lazing at the castle. A heart that desired to see God would have turned away from sexual temptation. A heart that desired to follow God would have repented of sin, rather than covering it up. David grasps this. He understands the holiness of God, and that God has every right to blot him out: in his repentance he desires to see God's mercy, to see his transgressions blotted out instead. But he does not ignore the immense offense that has been committed, first and foremost against God.

Second, we see the interface between forgiveness and earthly consequences. Does God forgive David? Yes. Does that free David up from paying a price for his sins? No, because of his sin, his son dies. His son dies. Oh, how we fail to grasp this truth! We say things like "forgive and forget" like they are from the lips of Christ Himself, or speak to some great Christian virtue, when they fly in the face of the biblical witness! God forgives sins, yes. He rescues us from the eternal, burning, hellacious consequences of that sin. He may or may not remove earthly consequences. Frankly, most often not. God's forgiveness is not, as it were, a cleaning of the slate; at least not in an earthly sense. We still live in the real world and our actions bear real consequences. I can't go un-see the porn I viewed as a teenager. I can't take back all of the horrible things I said to siblings. I can't go back and change who I've been. I must live with that. Thank God I can, in the knowledge that He has forgiven me and removed my condemnation. But there are earthly consequences to all of our actions.

As a final note, I want to apply that to parenting. We must not confuse forgiving our children with sheltering them from the right and natural consequences of their sin. We must understand that sin leads to death, and if we shelter them from earthly consequences to their iniquities, we may well be clearing the path for them to run headlong into hell. There is a time for mercy, yes. But the very nature of mercy is that it proves an exception to the natural rule.

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About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).