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)