forgiveness vs. getting away with

When I was doing my C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education) as a hospital chaplain while in seminary, I was called to see a woman who was described by the nurses on her unit as “depressed.”  She requested a visit from a chaplain, and so I was called.  All I knew about the woman when I walked into her room was that she had been in a terrible automobile accident and had been a patient for about a month.

After introducing myself and exchanging some social niceties I asked her why she wanted to see a chaplain.  She proceeded to tell me the story of her accident.  She had been drunk and had caused the accident which brought her to the hospital.  She had extensive injuries and some setbacks as she was trying to recover and she was convinced that God was punishing her for drinking and driving.  She was desperate to get back “right” with God, and would I help her with that?

I’ve been thinking about this woman a lot the last few days since the “Duggar situation” has exploded. Why? Because the pastoral/theological counsel I gave to her is exactly the same as my reaction to those who say that we should just move on from this – that Josh Duggar confessed, asked forgiveness, received forgiveness from those he abused (although I seriously have doubts about forgiveness granted so quickly by minors and family members!), and has been forgiven by God.

In some ways the situations are polar opposites – this woman being convinced God was punishing her, and those who advocate for Josh Duggar who say that he’s forgiven so we should just move on as if nothing happened (after all, it happened so long ago).  But the statement I gave to this woman, and how we “unpacked” it and the statement I would put forth to those who advocate for Josh Duggar are the same:  there is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  God’s forgiveness often runs a completely different path than earthly consequences.

I assured the woman in that hospital bed that God was NOT judging or punishing her.  She made a bad decision by drinking and driving and paid earthly consequences for her actions – she got in an accident, and had legal ramifications for breaking the law that were still forthcoming.  But God’s love for her was constant throughout, and God loved her even in that moment.  Indeed God grieved for her suffering.  She knew she made a mistake, she confessed the mistake (repeatedly), and I reassured her God’s forgiveness was real and that God wanted her healthy again, not languishing in judgment and physical pain.

I would say to Josh Duggar and those quick to move on that he too has been forgiven.  God was deeply grieved and angered by his actions of abuse, but Jesus died for him just as Jesus died for me.  His slate in heaven is clean. HOWEVER, just as with the woman above – there are earthly consequences for his actions.  The statute of limitations ran out so that legal ramifications were no longer possible (although one wonders if that would have been the case if his father and church leaders had gone to authorities in a TIMELY manner instead of waiting so long!) – so instead the ramifications seem to be a loss of reputation in a VERY public way.  And since he saw fit to be a public personality, loss of reputation in a public way is a logical consequence, the price for putting his life on television.

As for his parents?  They too are paying an earthly consequence for their cover-up.  Their salvation is not in question. Perhaps if they had dealt with their son’s actions, again, in a timely manner, and if they had gotten the victims (some of whom were their own daughters!) and their son REAL counseling – instead of punishing Josh with “hard labor” and a “stern talking to” and expecting the girls to “forgive,” this situation wouldn’t have exploded like it has.  They too have lost credibility and now have lost their show.   For them it is the earthly consequence for their “mishandling” and what boils down to a cover-up.

Some of the exploding has to do with the sick and twisted theology to which this family adheres.  The self-righteousness and purity culture, the patriarchy and the subjugation of women are a ripe breeding ground for sexual and physical abuse.  Men get free reign and women are expected to “take it” because the men are truly in charge. Women are discouraged from working outside the home and even from going to college.  They have no positions in church leadership.  They are expected to tolerate physical abuse from their husbands, and for them there is no such thing as spousal rape.  But all this is a topic for another post which I’m not sure I have the stomach to write…

What I wanted to do here was explain that, yes, Josh Duggar can receive God’s forgiveness for his actions – but that doesn’t mean there won’t be earthly consequences for his illegal behavior.  His parents may be forgiven for their “inaction” but are also paying an earthly price.

There is a difference between divine forgiveness and getting away with something.  Josh and his parents have been forgiven, but they have also gotten away with something for more than ten years – so perhaps the uproar is just the interest on their earthly debt….

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