The Lord said to Moses, “Get going, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Go up to the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I told them, `I will give this land to your descendants.’ And I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey. But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. If I did, I would surely destroy you along the way.” Exodus 33:1-3
Sin has consequences.
I realize that in many places within the Christian church the consequences of sin are beaten over people’s heads and guilt is utilized to try and manipulate people into behaving. But just as the consequences of sin can be misused and overly focused on the reverse can also hold true. Sometimes in a culture that preaches and celebrates grace this reality can be forgotten. Sin has consequences, even when there is grace and forgiveness.
God said to his people, “I will not travel among you…”
God displays amazing mercy and grace. He doesn’t completely destroy a people who prostituted themselves for an easier religion and momentary pleasure as soon as they thought God wasn’t looking. He could have. But just because God gave forgiveness and mercy doesn’t mean the matter is settled. Our sin, whether great or small (not really sure when we started ranking sins), causes all kinds of ripple effects in our life and the lives of others. Consequences.
There are some unstoppable ramifications of sinning. When we rebel against God and his ways and his values we set in motion the fruits of our choices. Some of these things cannot—or will not—be stopped. And so the world continues to deteriorate and rot. Because sin has consequences.
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. Romans 8:19-23
And until that day when Jesus restores all things we wait, and we groan, and we decay; because sin has consequences.
For the Israelites the consequences are painful and abrupt and, I would imagine, very devastating. God, who has led them out, who has fed them daily; God who has walked before them and behind them; God who has been in their midst since coming out of Egypt is not going to travel among them for a while. It’s not that he isn’t going at all. God just needs some space.
Ultimately this is the largest, most consistent effect of sin. It causes separation from God. It divides and distances us and our life suffers for lack of presence. This is why the world decays. This is why it’s all falling down around us. This is why we have sickness and pain and brokenness. Sin has consequences and chief among them is a God who withdraws from the world and from the people of sin. Not completely or permanently, but with ramifications for a people created for the sole purpose of relationship with the Creator.
It’s easy to forget. It’s more desirable to just focus on the grace of God and be thankful for forgiveness and forget about consequences. Then we wonder why we feel lost and alone and distant from God. He forgives, yes. He always forgives when we repent. But sin has consequences and there is ground lost and intimacy severed and distance created when we sin. And it takes time and effort to restore what we lose. Sometimes God withdraws to a place a little off from where we are. Not to punish us or torture us, but because sin wounds him. Sin angers him. Sin is a rebellious, selfish act against him. And sometimes the God who consumes all space and time needs a little space and time. And sometimes we need to be reminded of the painful truth that when we sin, even with grace and forgiveness at the ready, our sin has set brokenness in motion. Until Jesus comes back and puts an end to all sin our sin will continue to wreak havoc and decay.
There are consequences for our sin, and chief among them is the way it wounds our relationship with the only one who can free us from this sin. Perhaps if we keep this in the forefront of our minds it will help us on this journey, in these choices, and even when we sin, to make things right again.