Thursday, March 9, 2023

Forgiveness and Consequences from Alien Fathers

Suggested Reading: Exodus 34:1-9

In the third season of the Superman prequel series Smallville, Clark Kent deals with the fallout from a really bad decision. Trying to escape the influence of Jor-El, his biological father, Clark destroyed the spaceship that brought him to Earth and housed a copy of Jor-El's consciousness. The ensuing explosion sent shock waves for miles, destroying the Kent's storm cellar and rolling the truck in which Clark's adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha, were driving. The accident caused Martha to lose her unborn child, a miracle pregnancy. For months Clark dealt with guilt from the accident before Martha told him, "Clark, we never blamed you." But even being reconciled with his parents and experiencing their forgiveness, the entire family continued to deal with the loss of the unborn baby's life.

Scripture reminds us that this combination of forgiveness and consequences is something that we should expect. In Exodus 34:6-7, the Lord described Himself this way: "Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected – even children in the third and fourth generations" (NLT).

Often times, when first reading this passage, people will exclaim, "How is it fair that God punishes children and grandchildren for their parents' sin?" and we shouldn't gloss over that question. We should, however, read that verse in light of the one before it where God declares that he forgives "iniquity, rebellion, and sin." Who is it that needs their iniquity, rebellion, and sin forgiven? The guilty – the ones whose sin is being laid upon their children and grandchildren. Both are happening simultaneously. Forgiveness and consequences both come, simultaneously, from the hand of God.

To often, we make the mistake of assuming that forgiveness automatically wipes out the consequences of our sin, but that could not be farther from the truth. Yes, sometimes, God in God's mercy lessens the severity of those consequences but many times God does not. Often, God's forgiveness runs parallel to the consequences we experience for our sin. Just as a parent forgives their child for disobedience but will still discipline that child in order to teach them right from wrong, God cares too much about us to not let us experience at least some of the natural consequences of our sin to ensure that we learn.

If you are struggling with the idea that you have been forgiven because you are still experiencing the consequences of your sin, remember that forgiveness and earthly consequences often go together. The fact that we are experiencing consequences for our sin does not mean that God has not forgiven us. And the fact that we have received God's forgiveness does not mean that we are immune to the either the natural consequences of our actions or their effects on the people around us. God, in God's wisdom and power, can help us navigate those effects and begin to make the situation right, and we should seek God as we attempt to do so. But we must never assume that forgiveness and consequences do not go hand in hand.

God loves us too much not to forgive us when we seek God and too much not to let us learn from our failures.

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