The King did what he could to avert the suffering of his child. He fasted, pleading with God. He lay all night on the ground. There was no que sera sera with him. He did what he could do to put a stop to the chain of suffering he had set in motion. Yet when that death came, he accepted it. It wasn’t God being cruel; it was the result of Dave's own actions.
He then took care of Bathsheba rather than marking her as some ugly reminder of his sin and casting her out of his presence.
The gauge of true repentance and responsibility is not in how many litres of tears are wept at the altar. Nor is it to be found in loud declarations: “I’ve changed! This time I really mean it!” For most of us it will be found in accepting some consequences - some that arrive immediately, some which occur over an extended period of time. One of those consequences may just be that it becomes sheer hard work to regain intimacy with God and a passion for His plans.
Is this penance? Sometimes within the guilty mind is a feeling that I should make up for what I have done wrong. God’s Word is very clear on this: we are completely forgiven on the basis of Christ’s death and Christ’s continual intercession for us. I am not talking about penance – paying for forgiveness. It’s a gift. However, forgiveness happens in the realm of a relationship (God forgives me and so is no longer angry with me or distant from me relationally).
But consequences occur in the wider realm of time and space. In other words consequences come regardless of how good or bad a relationship is. For instance, imagine that in a fit of rage I smash my wife’s favourite vase, then seek forgiveness (and she forgives me), and our relationship is restored. I don’t have to pay for that grace; she either gives it or she doesn’t. In this case, she has given it. Nevertheless she is still minus one vase. Her forgiving me doesn’t magically repair the vase. Neither did God’s forgiveness of David change the fact that there was now one woman widowed by his order, pregnant to him, bereaved of a child because of a curse he brought on that child. In the case of my wife and the broken vase, I should take responsibility for my actions and buy her a vase that will take the place of the one I have broken. Do I do that because she demands it? No, I do it because I love her and don’t want to see her paying for my sin. Why should she be out one vase just because I chose to be stupid?
For many of us in recovering from a period of spiritual coldness, there may need to be some restitution involved, particularly where we have wronged another human being. This is far from paying penance. While God will need no repayment for the shabby way I have treated Him, He will nevertheless require that to the best of my ability I undo any damage I have done His reputation or the wellbeing of others. This about orienting our soul, our character, toward God and godliness...
The story of Zacchaeus illustrates this. When the little man understood the second chance he was being given, of his own volition he stood up and cried, “I will give half of my possessions to the poor and repay back anyone I’ve ripped off four times what they lost!” (Lk 19:8). Jesus’ comment was “Today salvation has come to this house” when He saw this dramatic and heartfelt response to grace.
I once heard the following story from the 1950s. A man had fled America for Scotland leaving $10,000 in debts behind him – a considerable sum back then. After a few years he was converted to Christ and fell in love with the things of God. It only took a few weeks before a growing conviction in his heart became too hard to ignore. He could not pursue his walk with Jesus until he dealt with it. The day came when he told his brothers and sisters in the Church, “I must return to America and repay my debts, even if it takes me the rest of my life.” They were shocked and questioned the sanity of such a course of action. Someone made the comment that he was now forgiven and his past sins blotted out. His response was that some of his sins were still quite legible in the records of several human institutions. The right thing for him to do was take responsibility to clean up his own mess, rather than leaving someone else to pay for it.How many of us today would display such an attitude?
Consequences may involve restitution or (like in David’s case) they may simply be natural outcomes of the choices we have made. Those consequences may look like items on the following list:
- Public confession of our wrongdoing
- Personally seeking the forgiveness of other human beings we have hurt
- A long period of hardship where the results of our bad choices actually torment us
- The expulsion of idols from our life
- Rebuilding trust with others
- The breaking of soul ties
- Hard work in exchanging our corrupt attitudes for better ones
- Discovering our spiritual disciplines are not easy to come back to and must be worked hard at
- Reprioritising of our life to make room for those spiritual disciplines, perhaps losing some other treasured pursuit in the process
This list is not exhaustive. And the consequences may be completely different for you. The point is that God will not always bail us out.
According to Hebrews 12, God’s discipline is not punishment – it is training. Do I really want to remain the weak person who allowed the fire to die in the first place? If I stay the same, there is nothing stopping it from happening again! We need God’s discipline – we need consequences – to become stronger, to become “partakers of His holiness” (Heb 12:10).
David has now completed a partial turn of his heart back to God. But another step awaits him. More in the next episode...
- When we lose our first love, we often become hard-hearted and hurt others. Is there any damage you have done while distant from God? What matters are there that you must attend to which will set things right?
- It may be that you lost your spiritual passion through being hurt by someone else. Holding on to bitterness has been likened to holding a hot coal in your hand; it only hurts you. Remembering this – and reminding yourself that you have flaws and failings which God is quick to forgive - is there anyone you must forgive to respond honourably to God’s grace?
- Things often get worse before they get better. Don’t expect the feeling of elation you may have felt when born again or first filled with the Spirit. God may be stretching you painfully to ensure that you stand the test of time ... and to take you "higher" in the longterm. Make a list of the ways in which current painful circumstances may be doing you some good for that long-term.
God is one who gives both affection and corrective discipline as He sees fit (Zephaniah 3:17; Revelation 3:19). Make the emotional commitment to open your heart to both (Job 2:10).
If this is the first time you've read one of this series of posts, please click on the label at the end of the post (Relighting the Fire) to read all entires. Unfortunately, they're in reverse order, so like many blogs, you'll have to scroll to the bottom to find the start of the the thread...