Yesterday, we had a guest elder give a sermon on the subject of repentance and its role in salvation. The aspect of the sermon that resonated most with me, and probably with a great deal of the other people who listened to the message, was the poignant reminder that while sins are forgiven, consequences remain, and they do not remain only for the people who are guilty of the sins but for those who suffer from them in some fashion as well. I have to admit that I found the speaker a bit guilty of oversharing a personal story that did not belong to him, but the core of the story that was shared was a recognition that the failed marriages (or relationships) of parents can have lasting and damaging effects on the children who are the result of such disunions. I could personally feel very strongly the speaker’s concern of his wife’s fear that any time there was a row or argument within their marriage there was the terror that he would leave.
That is not to say that there are not sins within a marriage that are not so serious that one should never leave, only that there are always consequences when two people cannot work things out, and those consequences are not always entirely rational. Speaking personally, a major damping influence in my own relationships with women have been my own unwillingness to marry someone I did not believe had enough commitment to fight through whatever inevitable difficulties and challenges would result from marrying me. While I do not think that I would ever be guilty of something that would justify a rupture, it is hard to have faith in someone’s tenacity to overcome difficulties because I know myself and my own background quite well enough to know that anyone who married me would have to deal with things that were not necessarily pleasant, including my own native awkwardness and the wide gap between the intensity of my feelings and my glacial restraint in dealing with them. And I know that similar concerns are rather common. In life we frequently have to face the reality that our longings often clash with the consequences of our lives and the lives of others in ways that make personal lives more tragic and melodramatic than they would be in an ideal world.
In Plato’s writings of the Socratic dialogues, one of the more interesting questions that is asked is whether it is better to be a tyrant or someone who is oppressed. The answer, of course, is that it is better to be neither. Socrates argued that it was better to be oppressed than to be an oppressor because of the destruction to one’s spirit that results from taking advantage of others. In our own time, though, we have seen that there is a great deal of violence that is done to the spirit of those who view themselves as victims of the oppression of others, especially when they seek to turn the tables and become oppressors to others who only resemble those alleged past oppressors in superficial qualities. Perhaps we might better say that anyone who desires to acquire power for the purpose of harming others, regardless of how successful they are at acquiring that power, is to be viewed as an oppressor and an evildoer. Frequently we need to curb the desire to be vigilantes executing judgment on the wicked, blind to the darkness that is in our own hearts and the reality that vengeance often causes such negative consequences as to create others who wish to avenge themselves upon us with at least as much judgment as we have to avenge ourselves on others. Consequences are more than meets the eye, and they can extend far beyond those who have been directly harmed by the sins of others. It can be just as soul-destroying to be the victim of evil as to be the perpetrator of evil, and to cultivate an attitude of graciousness and extending mercy to others is not taking it easy on others but a way to avoid the bitterness and envy and hatred that can corrode ourselves just as the injustices that the wicked inflict upon others corrode their own lives.
Accepting the consequences is by no means an easy thing to do. It may be no credit to us if we are patient when we are beaten for our own faults, but it is by no means an easy thing for us to show. It is likewise not easy for us to be patient when we suffer innocently, although there are at least some occasions where we might think we suffered innocently when we did not, and there are plenty of occasions where others may think that we suffered for cause when we in fact suffered innocently, all of which ought to encourage us to leave such judgment of whether our patience and longsuffering are praiseworthy or not to someone who is less biased and whose knowledge is less partial and limited than our own. Let us rest assured, though, that there are no sins without consequences, and we may be frequently self-deceived when it comes to the consequences that result from our own behavior or the way in which what we do carries repercussions that go far, far beyond what we may think. At any rate, it gives us food to reflect on the way that we have been shaped by the lives we have lived, and the way that our own behavior has shaped the lives and experience of others, sometimes in ways that we would lament and mourn if we only knew.