When forgiveness isn't enough
I know the title to this blog might sound strange, and it has nothing to do with God's eternal ability and willingness to forgive us everything. In fact, we celebrate this season for the very reason that God loves us so much that He stepped out of infinity and into time just to make things right between us and Him. He came to forgive. And He taught us to forgive.
Sometimes we forget that. And I think...that perhaps unforgiveness is one of the biggest things keeping us from a life of love, joy, peace, and profound hope in a future that is a lot brighter than the one we might be facing now.
But forgiveness doesn't always wipe out consequences in this earthly life.
Oh, it does wipe out consequences in eternity. To be forgiven by God--that's what wipes our slates clean. We get to start over and have a future that means life eternal with Him. Loving Him. Just being with Him!
But here. On earth. Consequences sometimes have to play out, even after we've felt and known and received God's forgiveness.
Backtracking a bit...
The other morning, Randy and I were getting ready to pray as we do many mornings. I had picked up my Bible and was reading the beginning of Jeremiah when I stopped at the beginning. Novelists tend to notice little details and I pay attention to things like when Jeremiah lived. What kings did he serve? And the first few sentences mention that Jeremiah lived through the reign of three kings.
So I mentioned King Josiah to Randy and that got us both searching because I knew I'd read that Josiah was a good king. And yet, Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet and he began to prophecy doom during Josiah's reign. Why on earth would Jeremiah be told by God to prophesy against Jerusalem or Judah during the reign of a good king?
That led us on a little rabbit trail of genealogy to Josiah's grandfather King Manasseh, spoken of in 2 Kings. Now King Manasseh had a godly father, King Hezekiah. But Manasseh--he didn't learn much from his godly father because he was one of the most wicked kings in Judah. God was not happy with all of the bloodshed during Manasseh's reign. He even put his sons on the altars of foreign gods and killed a lot of innocent people in the streets of the city.
God doesn't take kindly to brutal dictators. And even when it seems like they are winning, He is paying attention and like Able's blood cried out to God from the dust of the earth after his brother killed him, so does the blood of every innocent from that time until today.
God will avenge such atrocities.
But back to Manasseh. While I knew he was wicked, I was also sure I had read that he repented of that wickedness. So we searched a little more into Chronicles. Sure enough. Let the record show, Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33) had been hauled off to Babylon and there repented of his evil deeds. God heard Manasseh's prayer and restored him as king in Judah.
So why then was Jeremiah told to prophecy against Judah because of the sins of Manasseh? (Jeremiah 15) I mean the guy had humbled himself and begged forgiveness and God granted it. And though his own son was wicked after him, his grandson Josiah was godly. And then Josiah's kids were wicked. (Is there a lineage of godliness anywhere in Scripture that lasts?) But that's a question for another day.
As Randy and I searched for an answer, we came to the conclusion that sin has consequences.
Remember King David? He repented of his sin with Bathsheba and yet, God allowed the consequences to play out. David lost ten of his wives and four of his sons and the sword never departed from his house while he lived. Hefty price to pay for one night of lust. But David was a godly man and what he'd done caused other nations to look at God with disrespect.
Manasseh had encouraged his people to kill their own children. He was guilty of much innocent blood. Much more than the one man David had murdered. Manasseh was evil. Like some dictators in our world today. Some of us might think he didn't deserve to be forgiven. But we don't get to choose whom God forgives.
Yet sometimes even forgiveness isn't enough. It isn't enough to fix the wrongs of a nation who followed in a bad king's footsteps. It isn't enough to erase the slaughter of the innocents.
It may be enough to forgive the wrongdoer--God will be gracious to whom He pleases.
But when a leader turns an entire people group to do evil--that needs to be dealt with. And that's why Jeremiah kept warning the people that judgment was coming. He warned them and warned them under king after king. And yet they would not listen.
No one likes to be told they're wrong. And Judah's people didn't like Jeremiah very much. He suffered greatly for being God's prophet.
In the end, I believe God sent Jeremiah because He didn't want to exact judgment against His people for their sins. He wanted them to repent and return to Him. That's always His way. Why else did He come here?
So Jeremiah preached like Jesus preached, "Repent!" One preached judgment. The other preached the coming kingdom. But both needed repentance to appease the wrath of a holy God. And like Jeremiah who was hated, Jesus was hated more for speaking the truth about His Father--the Creator who owns the very ground we walk on.
And the Creator says, I want to forgive you..."For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."
Manasseh didn't suffer the consequences we probably think he should have. No, future generations suffered for his sins. David suffered his own consequences, and his son's kingdom knew peace. Sometimes forgiveness is enough. Sometimes, depending on how far we fall, God lets the consequences play out because sin has consequences and forgiveness only cancels punishment, not the ramifications of our actions.
That's why sometimes...forgiveness isn't enough to rescue us from the results of our choices.
But forgiveness is enough to put us in right standing with God, which affects our entire eternal future. The hope and reward of things to come.