Tag Archives: forgiveness

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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Quid Pro Quo

I saw a statement on twitter yesterday that made me sad.  Sad for the untold number of people who actually believe it.  Sad for the preachers and spiritual leaders that don’t have the audience or the “reach” to combat it.  Sad for Jesus, whose sacrifice is rendered useless if the statement is true.  The statement?

God’s promises hinge on our obedience.

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve come across a statement like this, or heard preaching with this slant, but for some reason today I felt like I had to write a response.

Praise and thank God that God’s promises do NOT hinge on our obedience.  Our obedience has nothing to do with it.  There is no quid pro quo with God.  You see, that’s one of the basic differences between God and human beings.  WE operate constantly on an “if/then” basis with one another.  Many times we’ll only do something nice or generous if we’re going to get a public thank you – one of the reasons why so many churches are filled with plaques of folks who have donated stuff, and why a hospital I walked through the other day had a HUGE wall of names of donors.  God doesn’t operate that way.

In reality, God’s promises are true and sure despite our LACK of obedience.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that we could perfectly follow God’s Will – he died precisely because we are NOT perfect and consistently sin and do NOT act in obedience.  THAT’S CALLED GRACE.  You and I don’t deserve a thing from God except condemnation.  But what does God give us?  GRACE.  FORGIVENESS.

I’m wondering what this person considers to be “God’s promises?”  Oftentimes when we hear phrases like this, what the people are really referring to are not God’s promises, but earthly “blessings.”  If I follow rules A, B and C, then God will give me D.  This my friends, is baloney (to put it nicely).  There are many preachers out there these days who are spouting this nonsense because IT’S WHAT PEOPLE WANT TO HEAR.  Of course we want to hear that if we play by the rules we’ll be rewarded.  Of course we want to hear that if we’re good little boys and girls God will get us a new toy.   We DON’T want to hear that bad things happen to good people.  We DON’T want to hear that we can be faithful and love God and still have a life filled with hardship.  We want to believe that we are somehow in control of our own destiny.  The idea that we are NOT in control is downright frightening.  But my friends, that’s the truth.

Another truth is that faith and material success or “worldly blessings” are often at odds with one another.  They can be a trap, a very dangerous trap.  If we’re not VERY careful our worldly blessings can become other gods for us.  What we have is never enough – whether it be money, power, respect, popularity etc… And for every successful person who thanks Jesus in some television interview, there are MILLIONS struggling to get by – struggling materially, struggling politically, struggling in their careers, struggling in relationships.  Does their lack of “blessings” signal that they are somehow disobedient to God or that God loves them less?  ABSOLUTELY NOT.   You know, the weak and heavy laden, the hated, the mourning, the sick, the little ones, etc…?  Jesus constantly reached out to those on the margins, touched the untouchable, even ate with sinners.  Our earthly blessings are not a sign of our obedience (or lack of it).

GOD’S PROMISES HINGE ON GOD’S PROMISES. 

That’s the way it goes.  God gave us some promises, and because God MADE the promises, God will KEEP the promises.  You know why?  Because unlike human beings, when God makes a promise God will never break it.

And what ARE God’s promises?  LOVE, GRACE, FORGIVENESS, PRESENCE, REDEMPTION, ETERNAL LIFE.

God makes NO promise that we will be loved by others – only that GOD loves us.  God makes NO promise that we will be wealthy.  No promise that we will be respected.  No promise that we will come first by worldly standards.  No promise of physical health.  No promise our relationships will be stable or healthy or even SAFE.  But God DOES promise us that we are forgiven, that we have a place in heaven, and that while we’re still in this life on earth we are NOT alone, but are always held in God’s arms.  And because of THESE promises of God we can have strength to cope with our challenges, strength to try to make our earthly life better, and peace that no matter what life throws at us, no matter how much we screw up, God will always love us, because the following is also true.

GOD’S PROMISES HINGE ON JESUS