Natural Consequences and Divine Intervention

I received some online feedback regarding my post, Ideas in Christianity Putting Some People’s Minds in a Tailspin!  I will do a series on that feedback, since it made me think, plus I feel that I can interact with it in more depth on my own blog, rather than in a comment.  I won’t necessarily write a post for this series each and every day, but I will post fairly regularly.

My post was about how some Christians can apply certain ideas well, whereas other Christians can apply those same ideas in a manner that’s unhealthy.  I stated the following:

“In the movie that I watched yesterday, Hidden Secrets (see my post here), one of the characters felt that God was punishing her because she had an abortion when she was in college. When a Christian friend tried to reassure her that the blood of Jesus could forgive any sin, she replied that God may have forgiven her, and yet God is still requiring her to undergo negative temporal consequences on account of her sin. For her, those consequences were that people she loved died. She did not refer to the story of David and Bathsheba, but I have heard Christians allude to that story to teach that, although God may forgive a sin and the sinner is saved, God may still require the sinner to endure the negative temporal consequences of that sin…Many Christians will come along and will say that what I presented in the above items is not “biblical”. But, in a sense, it is biblical…In some cases in the Hebrew Bible, God smites a person’s family members as punishment for that person’s sin. (I think of the firstborn of Egypt, and also Jeroboam’s son.)”

Here were some responses that I received to this point:

“You said: ‘I have heard Christians allude to that story to teach that, although God may forgive a sin and the sinner is saved, God may still require the sinner to endure the negative temporal consequences of that sin.’  That sounds reasonable. Consider the alternative: I get drunk, drive and hit a parked car. Should the judge just say ‘oh, you are a Christian? In that case, case dismissed’? Of course not.”

“…I think God is being blamed unfairly. Why is it God’s fault if we suffer consequences from stupid choices we make? The universe is set up to operate according to certain laws (including spiritual laws) and when we violate those laws, we often pay the consequences. I tend to think God is more involved if somehow we manage to avoid experiencing the consequences of our actions.”

I think it’s common sense that, in many cases, we reap what we sow.  And my impression is that this is how most evangelicals understand the teaching that God may forgive our sins, yet permit us to suffer the consequences for our sins: they’re talking about natural consequences of bad behavior, not God intervening to punish.  That woman on the movie, Hidden Secrets, was going in another direction, however, for she was saying that God was punishing her temporally because she had an abortion, by killing people who were close to her.  But I cannot ascribe this view to evangelicals, for this was a woman on a movie, and the movie itself (which was Christian) was strongly indicating that her viewpoint was wrong, for God is forgiving.

But I can understand where one would get the idea that God would punish a person after forgiving him or her.  As far as I can tell (and I’m open to different ideas), what David suffered at the hands of Absalom was not a natural consequence of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah—except for Ahithophel joining Absalom’s side, of course, since Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather and was probably offended by what David did.  Amnon’s rape of Tamar, Absalom’s murder of Amnon, and Absalom’s revolt were not natural effects of David’s sin.  Rather, they were God intervening to punish David.  Perhaps a Christian could say that God may discipline a person after forgiving him, for God wants that person to recognize the gravity of sin.  But that view can be applied in an unhealthy manner, as that woman on the movie was doing when she blamed herself for the death of those she loved. 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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