By Ron Halbrook
“Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15). Temporal hardships may continue long after the transgression has been for-given. Sin always has spiritual consequences such as separating us from God and making us slaves to Satan, but some sins also have consequences which are temporal, earthly, or physical. These unintended results may fall on many people in addition to the sinner himself. Adam’s sin not only separated him from God spiritually, but also brought the pall of physical death down upon himself, his immediate family, and all the human family until the end of time (Gen. 3:19; Heb. 9:27). God offers all men forgiveness of sins, and yet all men must die physically whether they accept or reject God’s offer. When God forgives our sins and restores us to a right spiritual relation-ship with himself, this does not remove the temporal consequences of certain sins.
For instance, the converted murderer cannot claim that since God has forgiven him, he is now exempt from the death penalty. Paul said, “If I… have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die” (Acts 25:11). Further-more, the sin of murder affects and afflicts many people beyond the immediate murder victim, and these results cannot be removed. The convicted thief who repents of his sin must still pay the penalty required by civil law as the “due reward” of his deeds (Lk. 23:40-43). Even after he repents, many people may continue to suffer from both his stealing and the penalty he must pay. When the prodigal son returned in genuine penitence to his father’s house, and was forgiven and received, he still could not recover the money wasted in such sinful conduct as gambling (Lk. 15:13).
The violation of God’s law on marriage, divorce, and remarriage may result in pains and sorrows which cannot be removed even when the sin is forgiven. The Jews who married foreign wives contrary to the law of Moses could be forgiven but faced the temporal consequence of separation from their wives (Ezra 10:11). Herod could have been forgiven for marrying his brother’s wife but he could not have kept her (Mk. 6:17-18). When a man who has been living in adultery is converted to Christ, all of his past sins are forgiven, but baptism does not sanctify his adulterous marriage and he faces the difficult temporal consequence of having to end his adulterous relationship (Matt. 19:9; Acts 26:20). The hardships which follow fall upon an ever-widening circle of children, relatives, and other loved ones.
Cain and David
Cain was not forgiven for his sin; David was forgiven; yet, both men faced temporal consequences of their sins from which there was no escape. Consider the case of Cain. God legislated the death penalty for murder after the time of Cain, but does this mean that Cain escaped the temporal consequences of his sin (Gen. 9:6)? In Cain’s case, God executed a penalty approaching death if not worse than death, a sort of living death. God said that the earth would not yield its bounty to Cain and that he would suffer the desperate life of “a fugitive and a vagabond.” “And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear” (Gen. 4:9-15). Cain was to be driven from pillar to post, under the constant threat of death, doomed to an empty life of misery and despair! Men living under such a sentence often invite or welcome death in their reckless despair, either by conduct or by conscious decision, hoping that death will be release from their suffering. Imagine their consternation in finding at death they have stepped from one horrible world of torment to another more horrible still! “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isa. 57:21).
Consider the case of David in 2 Samuel 11-12. David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then was driven to cover his sin by causing Uriah’s death in a military operation. After David’s forgiveness and restoration to a right relationship with God, he remained married to Bathsheba and was not put to death. Does this mean that he escaped the temporal consequences of his sin? As to the marriage, Uriah was dead when David married Bathsheba. Therefore, the marriage of David and Bathsheba was not an adulterous union (Rom. 7:2-3). Why was David not executed for his role in Uriah’ s death? Perhaps there were difficulties in administering the law in this case because David himself was the head of the civil government and because of the difficulty of producing witnesses who could and would testify against him and be the first to act in executing the death penalty (Deut. 17:6-7; 19:5). The woman taken in adultery in John 8:1-11 similarly was not stoned because it was not possible to produce competent witnesses. Furthermore, God himself issued a special dispensation of clemency through Nathan the prophet, saying explicitly to David, “Thou shalt not die” (2 Sam. 12:9-14).
Does this mean that David “got away with murder”? No, not at all. The temporal consequences of David’s sins were terrible indeed! Because of David’s role in the death of Uriah, the child conceived in adultery died, a punishment worse than death for David. Furthermore, David’s conduct weakened his moral leadership over the nation so that he henceforth struggled to protect the throne and unite the nation. Perhaps worst of all, he lived to see the disintegration of his family through immoralities, insurrections, and deaths. These consequences were virtually a living death, a death penalty carried out over and over, giving rise to heart-rending cries recorded in the Psalms. It is a tribute to David’s faith that he accepted and endured these consequences without a single word of complaint against the justice of God.
The Moral Government of the Universe
There is much about the moral government of the universe by God which we do not understand, but we know that his administration of this government is wise, just, compassionate, for our good, and ultimately for the fulfilling of his own holy purposes. With Job we stand in awe of God’s government of the universe, and we are ashamed to think that we have ever questioned it in any way.
“Then Job answered the Lord, and said, Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further” (Job 40:3-5). God is not responsible to justify all of His ways to man.
We may wonder what there is in the righteous and holy character of God that caused him to not give the murderer the right to live (Gen. 9:6; Isa. 6:3; Rom. 13:4). We may wonder why God did not give the divorced fornicator the right to many a new mate, or give the adulterer the right to continue in his adulterous marriage (Gen. 2:24; Isa. 6:3; Matt. 19:4-9). In other words, why are such temporal consequences of sin necessary to the moral government of the universe? There are sufficient reasons known to God, and he is no more obligated to satisfy our curiosity about such matters than he was to answer the probing of Job.
This much we can know about such matters. Divine law established a moral order and justice in the universe to which man ultimately must submit, either willingly or unwillingly, and all of God’s laws and ordinances sustain this moral order somehow. We can understand that God restrains evil by making it impossible for the murderer to murder again when he is executed, and God restrains evil also by providing this means of warning others against the evil. God restrains the evil of sexual immorality by every phase and particular of his law on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and the temporal consequences of breaking that law serve as a warning to others not to break it. We can understand that God’s laws on murder and fornication are designed to protect the good, and that the temporal consequences of breaking these laws remind us that one victim is enough. God has so designed all of his laws in these matters so as to reinforce the message that he intends for these sins to stop.
The Ruler of the universe is all-wise and all-powerful, and it is he who has ordained the temporal consequences of sin. This ordinance is revealed in Scripture and reflected in life, if we only have the eyes to see it. We destroy ourselves by questioning and re-belling against any part of God’s government over life. Our transgressions bring many hardships, some of which we suffer even after our sins are forgiven. Even after we are forgiven and restored to a right relationship with God, we may face the temporal consequences of abusing alcohol and other drugs, marital infidelity and a broken home, incest, homosexuality, disrespect toward husband or wife, failing to discipline children, stealing, lying, cheating, an acid tongue, and other sins. Though the consequence is not always physical death, it may be a living death as we see the innocent suffer physically, emotionally, economically, psychologically, and in other ways because of our sins.
It is an act of faith in God to endure these consequences with-out complaining about his government of the universe. If we truly live by faith in him, such suffering will draw us closer to him, as happened in the case of David. The Psalms provide wonderful balm for these wounds which we have inflicted upon ourselves and others. If we live by true faith in God, we will tell others of his justice and mercy even as we suffer earthly consequences from our sins, and we will point to these consequences as a means of warning others not to make the mistakes we have made. Even while suffering the consequences of his sins, David expressed his trust in the mercy and grace of God, and declared that all the judgments of God are just and true.
Have mercy upon me, 0 God, according to thy loving kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest (Psa. 51:1-4).
“If we live by true faith in God, , We will tell others of his justice and mercy even as we suffer earthly consequences from our sins, and we will point to these consequences as a means of warning others not to make the mistake we have made. Even while suffering the consequences of his sins, David expressed his trust in the mercy and grace of God, and declared that all the judgments of God are just and true.”
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 18, p. 14-15
September 16, 1993