The current Christian battle over forgiveness vs. consequences

As of this week, Wednesdays are looking a bit different in our household.

Several months ago, Liv and I had started a special breakfast routine every Wednesday morning. I’d pull her chair to the edge of the kitchen so the TV screen was visible, and as we munched on our English muffins and bananas, we’d watch a show that I’d recorded on the DVR the night before. The program: TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting.

It was one of the few shows on TV I felt I could comfortably watch with my toddler. Not that I agreed with or endorsed everything about the lifestyles of the Duggar clan–though there was much to like about the long-running program chronicling the lives of this unique family from Arkansas. Certainly, they are extreme in many of their views and beliefs. But they profess to follow Christ. They promote family values. They are conservative and modest. Their language is clean. And for whatever reason, Liv was enthralled with those 19 kids. She’d break out into a big smile during the opening of every episode when each kid is introduced by name.

By now, I’m sure that most of you familiar (and probably many not familiar) with the show have heard the devastating news reports regarding the apology last week from the eldest Duggar son (now 27) after a tabloid alleged he molested several girls while he was a teenager. I have no desire to rehash the details of what’s been reported that Josh Duggar did, but I do want to say I was very grieved by what I’ve read.

Not just by the allegations, which are heart-wrenching. But by the response of many Christians.

He was young. He made a mistake. His family handled it. He’s turned his life around. He apologized. We shouldn’t draw attention to this. We need to forgive.

As if collectively saying, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.” That further (or previously warranted) consequences needn’t apply.

These types of responses coming from Christian circles are something I’ve especially been wrestling with over the past couple years. I can’t say I’m surprised by them, as I’ve sadly seen these reactions several times throughout my life to a variety of situations. At churches, after pastors have committed a sin or crime that has disqualified them from pulpit service. At universities, after criminal reporting or counseling was mishandled. In families, after abuse.

He’s apologized. (Or, in some cases, maybe not.) He didn’t know any better. Look at all the other good things he’s done. We should show grace and forgive. No one else needs to get involved. We can handle this matter quietly ourselves. Nothing more here needs to happen.

Let me make it clear: I am not saying that we shouldn’t extend forgiveness.  But I am growing increasingly confused about something.

Since when did it become biblical that forgiveness and consequences are mutually exclusive of each other? 

By these responses I’ve repeatedly seen in Christian environments over the years, you’d think these concepts are at odds against each other. That  administering consequences means you aren’t showing forgiveness. That punishment or retribution for sin (or, unbelievably, crime) means you are forsaking grace. That, in some situations, we as Christians are above the law … or God’s Word.


Will someone please tell me where that’s biblical?

In fact, the Bible recounts many times where the offender receives consequences despite whether he’s apologized, asked for forgiveness, or all the other good things he’s done. Take Moses after he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as God commanded: he couldn’t enter the Promised Land. And David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba: he lost his son. Extremely godly people in other areas of their lives that still had to pay a price for their wrongdoing.

In His Word, God clearly outlines there are consequences when we make wrong choices, which is something we all have done and continue to do. If we are believers, we should know the consequences serve a bigger purpose. They exist to teach us something and to learn how to better follow Him. The same goes for parenting. As a mom, I demonstrate my love for my daughter by offering both correction AND forgiveness. If I choose to discard the former in favor of only the latter when my daughter said “sorry” or “all done” in her small toddler voice, she would quickly learn that it is no big deal to go her own way, despite my instruction. It’s never easy to administer something my daughter doesn’t want after she’s made a poor choice, but I do it because I care about her deeply and want her to remember to choose differently in the future. Our Heavenly Father also corrects because He cares.

Of course, not all consequences for our actions will occur here on Earth. The Bible tells us about the judgments to come for both non-believers and for those who have placed their faith and trust in Him. We will one day all be accountable for our actions before God.

So back to my confusion over these reactions. The way I see it, finding the grace to forgive doesn’t mean you forego legal or biblical consequences. These concepts should not conflict. 

But the consequences will bring hurt and pain, you say. It will cause a job loss. It may mean jail time. It will be embarrassing.

And all those things might be true, and if our spirit is right, no one should be celebrating over that. But for some reason, many are OK with shielding the offender if it means avoiding the shame (and often inconvenience) of enduring those things. Most unfortunately,  in doing so, such a decision essentially elevates and protects the offender over those he’s offended. 

Sometimes the fall-out and repercussions of sin (and particularly crime) are ugly. God commands we forgive. But He also commands we follow the law and His Word. We shouldn’t forsake one over the other. As Christians, we should promote environments where these concepts are not at war, but peacefully and unashamedly exist together. 

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening–it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)

When I said ‘I do,’ I didn’t know what it meant

It’s still dark outside this morning, but I’m restless and struggling to sleep as I think of what’s ahead once the sun peeks its brilliant head over the horizon.

Today, we leave to celebrate our 10th anniversary–a surprise cruise that I still can’t believe I put together without your knowledge. And what a surprise it was: after you got over the shock, you sweetly told me it was the best gift I’d ever given you, outside of Olivia. I couldn’t have been happier to do it.

Ten years.

It feels unfathomable yet completely plausible that a decade of marriage has passed. Crazy, yet comfortable. At 18 and 19, we were barely more than kids when we first met. I remember my initial hesitation to commit to beginning a relationship with you–because I had a sense even then that it would be starting something that had no end. The foreverness of it was intimidating.

But as I prepared to walk down the aisle almost four years later, I couldn’t have been more excited. The 20th of May, 2005, was the quintessential spring day in Michigan–the kind you picture when you think of spring, but actually rarely happens in this weather-fickle state–warm, sunny, the air filled with a soft fragrance of fresh blooms. And anticipation. I was counting down the hours until I became yours.

As we exchanged our vows that evening, I was SO in love … or so I thought.

Turns out, looking back at the passage of time, when I said “I do,” I didn’t really have any idea what the weight of those words meant–what exactly I was saying when I eagerly repeated that I would honor, cherish, and protect you in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better … or worse. Or what you meant when you said those words back to me.

I didn’t know how you would see me in my lowest and most vulnerable situations, and yet would still care for me. How you be the best nurse I’ve ever had, learning just what remedy would help ease the pain of my latest hurt. How when I am not well, you immediately set to work, no questions asked, bringing medicine, my “buddy,” and Canada Dry. How you would clean up after me. How deep your comfort would run.

I didn’t know how you would be my biggest cheerleader and fan. How when the latest obstacle and major life decision stood before me, and I would come seeking advice, you would tell me you didn’t see a challenge at all. How you knew I would find a way to do it–be it a new job, idea, or motherhood–because, as you’ve repeatedly told me, “I always did.”

I didn’t know how you would work hard to provide for me in ways I couldn’t have dreamed possible. How you’d put in long hours at an extra job or in overtime to prepare for our future. How you’d be careful with what you earned and teach me to save more than we spent. How steadfastly you would honor God with His gifts.

I didn’t know how, at times, I could get so mad at you, yet love you so much. How we’d have low points that would rival our highs. How trivial our early battles now seem. How I’d feel incomplete, tortured, and empty until resolution with you has been reached.

I didn’t know how naturally you’d fall into fatherhood. How, despite the worst of days at work, your face would light up when you greet our child. How you’d find joy in the thankless tasks, changing diapers, giving baths, cleaning messes. How I’d see only you when she laughs.

But most of all, I didn’t know how you’d point me to Christ. How you’d motivate me to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. How you lovingly would help expose and correct my flaws and failures that didn’t mirror my Savior’s image. How I would see you seek God in prayer before moving our family forward. How I would desire to love God and others more because of you.

Ten years ago, when I said those words, I realize now I had no clue what love meant. And that today, I hope I still do not. That as the days continue to pass, the meaning behind our vows will extend their roots deeper in my heart with the twists and turns of what’s to come. That our love story has much left to be written. And that with each annual celebration of our wedding day, I’ll think of those words with a newfound appreciation.

I love you, hon.

“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13, The Message)