Forgiveness and Consequences

There’s a lot in the New Testament about forgiveness. Jesus speaks of it so many times there’s not enough space to fit all the references in here. In the letters and Acts there’s a heavy emphasis on forgiving those who have wronged us, but there’s less said about consequences.

I’ve ministered with and counselled people who have been through rape, child abuse and other horrific experiences since I became a Christian in 1985. Even then, as a boy of just 13 it seemed the broken somehow sought me out for comfort – a huge responsibility and honor for anyone at any age.

Something I learned very quickly is that there needs to be forgiveness from the injured towards the assailant, but consequences for the assailant.

What does this mean? Simply put, forgiveness is not a get out of jail free card – sometimes literally. I recently was in a position where I needed to confront someone whose family member – a “pastor” urged her to give a second chance and forgive the man who had sexually abused her five-year-old child. Forgive, yes. But to give a second chance? To do what? Add rape? Add murder?

I live in South Africa, a country where life is cheap. The mortality rate is high, largely due to HIV/AIDS and a high murder and accident rate. Abuse is often not taken seriously by the police. There are cases every day of “corrective rape” where a homosexual individual is raped in the belief it will turn them back to heterosexual orientation. In fact what happens usually is it ingrains even more deeply the tendencies driving the person away from that orientation, and damages the emotional well being of all involved – perpetrators are numbed to the violence of their crime and victims are scarred forever emotionally and often physically. In extreme cases there is murder rather than “correction” because of the shame brought on the family.

Actions have consequences. In spite of forgiveness, they must. Yes, Paul writes that scripture is there for the teaching and admonishing of the believer, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) but there needs to be accountability for actions as well. Before a man can fully be restored he needs to acknowledge his sin, repent and turn from it. Not given a free pass to continue behaving in the same way. If a human law has been broken we are commanded to be subject to that law and accept the punishment as given, not try to run around claiming innocence because of spiritual repentance.

Should a repeat child molester or rapist be absolved from prosecution under the law of the land because of a spiritual revelation? No. He should hand himself over to the authorities for his own crimes and allow himself to be tried and convicted.

Recently a pastor I know of advised a young mother who had just learned her child had been molested by a family member to forgive him and let the matter go. Thankfully she is a close friend and I was able to explain the difference between forgiveness and letting them off completely. She’s working on forgiving, but the criminal case is going ahead.

Actions need to have consequences in this world. Chaos would rule if there were no consequences. In the old movie “Groundhog Day” Bill Murray’s character is trapped reliving the same day over and over. I cannot imagine anything worse. The concept of making choices that will never change a thing is terrifying. In the movie, even suicide does not end the torment as he simply wakes up as if nothing had happened. We need to be accountable to an authority in this world or the next for our actions. Jesus spoke at length about it. Every parable shows the consequence of an action. The priest praying loudly for all to see has received his reward. The shepherd searching diligently for one lost sheep receives the fruit of his work. When the rich young ruler challenges Jesus and is told to dispose of the wealth he has it’s not because poverty is a virtue (it’s not), but because his wealth is an idol to him – much like to some in the Western world – and it prevents him being close to God. Nicodemus understands when Jesus tells him he must be born again of the Spirit.

Consequences are vital to our growth. We are either growing or dying, there is no in-between.

I have an avocado tree in my garden I planted for my wife. When I tend it it grows. When I don’t it dies back. The actions I take have a direct consequence on the tree’s life. So it is with us spiritually and physically. We can fake it for a while, but sooner or later the death in our heart from failing to accept, face and grow from the consequences will show as we wither.

There is no action without consequence.

Let the action of our salvation lead to the consequence of a Godly life, but let us not lose sight of the possibility that our physical actions must be answered for as well.