I am facing today the consequences of all I have done in my life up through yesterday. I’m also facing the consequences rippling through the world brought on by other people’s behavior up through yesterday. Today, we all have the opportunity to live some more, causing new consequences both short and long term. It’s one thing to know that all behavior has consequences; it’s quite another to be able to track it. I don’t even try to track it all. I just keep trying to sow the most good I can, one day at a time.
There’s no telling what might come on me today. This could be a day of drama, or it could seem boring. We can trust, however, that God will give us the strength to handle whatever comes. And that even if it’s a day of devastating destruction, we can still find life in it by seeking to love at every opportunity.
Perplexed, but Not Despairing
I remember when our oldest daughter was stricken with diabetes. We thought she had the flu but she was actually in the initial stages of the disease. We finally rushed her to the hospital where she went into a coma. My lowest point was seeing my eleven-year-old daughter flat on her back and unconscious in a huge scanning machine. Did I have the strength to make it through that day? No, but extra strength came. It came from friends, family…and from God Himself into the deep recesses of my heart. She later came out of the coma and has been doing fine with insulin in the many years since.
Why was she stricken? I don’t know. I certainly don’t believe it was a random act of the universe. I believe it was a consequence of something – maybe a consequence of multiple things. Just what, I don’t know. Was it my behavior? Someone else’s? I don’t ponder its causes often because few answers come. While I’m open to understanding, I don’t dwell on the mystery. Instead, I focus on how courageously she has lived with this disease and how she has kept it from being a burden to anyone but herself. The whole experience has humbled me, though I still wish for her sake that it hadn’t happened. And who knows? Maybe I’ll gain more understanding of the root causes before I get to heaven.
The apostle Paul wrote about being “perplexed, but not despairing.” If we examine our conscience and find nothing that would explain the calamity, we are perplexed. If we are not careful, that perplexity can lead into despair. This is the mistake of Job’s puzzle (if you haven’t already, see the essay Job’s Puzzle in this series), and the Bible is telling us to avoid it. We can live without all the answers, but we can’t live without hope. That means we have to learn to face the troubles of each day – whether it’s a life-threatening disease or someone cutting us off in traffic – with a conviction that God will face those troubles with us…even if we brought it on ourselves.
Facing Consequences with God
Most of what will happen today is beyond my ability to control. Therefore, the Bible promotes the idea of self-control. And the terrible difficulty we have controlling our own behavior reveals how foolish it is for us to try to control anyone else’s. God can’t even control human behavior. He responds to it. He seeks to influence it. But that is a far cry from trying to control it. If God doesn’t try to control things, how much more we should resist the temptation.
We can know that our behavior has consequences but we can’t manage those consequences. Whatever they are, they are. We, and everyone else affected, will have to live with them. That means facing up to the day, even when it all goes wrong. There is no use crying over spilled milk. However, there is value in cleaning it up. There is value in trying not to spill anymore. There’s no value, however, in trying to act like the floor’s not sticky or that something else is causing that terrible smell.
One of the most wonderful things about God is that He faces the consequences of life with us. Even if we have brought disaster upon ourselves, He lives with us and feels our every pain. I am fully persuaded that God not only feels our every pain, but that He feels each one more sharply than we do. He knows every part of our hearts, where the worst of pains are felt. His sensitivity keeps Him feeling pain that we can no longer tolerate. When my daughter was close to death, He kept hurting for me while I went numb.
The suffering of God is staggering to contemplate. Have you ever been on a picnic where the weather is beautiful and the scenery is idyllic? You savor every bit of the food that’s prepared. Afterward, you lean back and breathe in the fresh air and wonder what could possibly be wrong with the world. Plenty. A few miles from you some guy is beating his wife, some kids just bought drugs, some bank is being robbed, and some lonely person wishes they were dead. God has to keep up with all this bad stuff in addition to your picnic. But does He bother you with it? No. He lets you soak in the goodness and fills your heart to overflowing. He bears an awful lot of suffering without a word of complaint.
That God suffers doesn’t mean He’s victimized. He overcomes through it all. For when He designed this creation to be a creation of consequence, He determined from the beginning that He would live with every bump in the road, never turning away from humanity for even a moment. Do you think you’ve suffered some things unfairly? I tell you that no one has ever suffered through more consequences of other people’s bad behavior than God – and He’s doing great! You can, too.
Just take God’s approach. Live each day as if everything you think, say, and do will have consequences. Don’t approach the day as if your day is meaningless. Also, determine that you can’t control what anyone else will do. Just determine that you will endure – and rise above – all that comes your way. When all the consequences have played out, you’ll be in heaven with God. And there’s no greater consequence of living than that.
Thinking Too Much About Consequences
It’s possible to give too much thought to the consequences of our actions. A wife who refrains from discussing a certain subject with her husband because it may upset him may be refraining from a discussion that would ultimately help him. As a general rule, it’s a good idea for spouses to avoid upsetting each other. An atmosphere of peace is wholesome for relationships. Peace, however, isn’t the only virtue in life. If we have to give up other virtues – such as honesty or love – to obtain it, then we’ve paid an unwarranted price for the peace.
Jesus had some things to say that upset many people. His condemnation of hypocrisy, for instance, greatly troubled the religious leaders of His day. Some of them took the criticism personally and began a campaign against Him. Jesus could have relieved the pressure against Himself by toning down His message and speaking in a way more politically correct for His time. Surely, this possibility was running through His disciples’ minds as the controversy surrounding His ministry grew more intense.
The night before He died was an opportunity to take the easy way out and make peace with His critics. But Jesus loved His critics too much to make peace with them. Their myopic vision of God was leading people to destruction and despair. Even as He struggled to carry His cross to Calvary, He warned the women who wept for Him, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me; instead weep for yourselves and your children.” He foresaw the coming destruction at the hands of the Romans and continued to look out for the interests of others even as He Himself was dying at their hands. He kept to His course, enduring negative consequences to Himself, that He might spare others the negative consequences of not heeding His message.
Indeed, many Jews did heed Jesus’ warnings and escaped the destruction that came on Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They found the peace that He had forfeited for Himself on their behalf. Put another way, they reaped a harvest of peace from the seed He had planted on their behalf. Had Jesus kept the peace that was being offered Him – a reprieve from the cross if He would soften His message and, say, deny He was Israel’s Messiah – these believers would not have heard the instructions that enabled them to survive destruction and find life.
Jesus shows us, therefore, that simply avoiding troublesome consequences is not the very best way of living. His way was to toss the pebbles just right…and trust that all the ripples in the pond would take care of themselves. In other words, He kept paying attention to His motives. Let us, therefore, knowing that the promise of heaven frees us, do the same.