Have you even gotten punished for what someone else did? How did you feel when that happened? Does your sense of “justice” match God’s? Read on.
In Exodus 34, God declares who He is to Moses. At the end of a bunch of really admirable qualities, God states that He punishes the guilty and that He punishes the children of the disobedient to the third and fourth generation.
That little snippet of information is probably more than we want to swallow let alone consider as an attribute of a great and loving God. Yet, there it is. We can either deny it or accept it, but we will still have to deal with it either way.
The first thing that comes to people’s mind is, “Why would God punish little children for something THEY didn’t do?” Before answering that question directly, let’s first look at the fact of this statement.
One person put it quite simply: my sin affects other people. Would you agree with that? Would you agree that your disobedience to God’s law not only CAN affect others but that it indeed DOES? Let’s look at some examples:
- If a lady injects crack cocaine into her body while she is pregnant, does she alone experience the side effects, or does the baby suffer, too?
- If a man smokes like a chimney, does he alone deal with the consequences, or does his family suffer the effects of the smoke in their lungs?
- If a man is mean, angry, bitter and violent, does he hurt only himself or also his wife and children?
If we agree that the actions above affect those around the person involved in the sin, then what we are saying is that our sin does affect others. In fact, most people wouldn’t have much difficulty seeing the reality of these statements. We know that our sin affects others, but the question we must pose is, “Why does it?”
The answer is simple: because God said that it does. Think about that for a minute. God could have made it a law that whenever you or I do something stupid that we alone bear the consequences of that action. He could have made us in such a way that sinful deeds by others would not ever hurt us. Wow! What kind of world would that be like? Think about it for a moment.
- A woman abuses her body with drugs, but her baby is born healthy and alert with no withdrawal pains
- A man smokes all his life until he gets cancer and dies, but his family never suffers any type of bronchial or allergenic problems whatsoever
- A man is violent, mean and aggressive, but his actions do not damage his wife’s sense of self-worth, and his children grow up to be completely normal with no baggage to carry into their own marriages
What a world that would be, where everyone’s choice only affect themselves! But that’s not how it is, and we know it.
So if the answer to the question as to why our sin affects others is, “Because God said that’s the way things will be,” then the next question that begs to be asked is, “Why did God make it to work that way?” After all, if He makes the rules and calls the shots, why make them in such a way that those innocent of a transgression suffer for it? Is that fair?
Well, it doesn’t seem fair to us perhaps, but that’s the way it is. Let’s look at some answers to the question, “Why” so we can understand God better.
- God is a God of relationships. Before there was a creation, there was a complete Godhead that had fellowship within itself (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).
- God created us in His image with the capacity to both know and enjoy Him.
- Our disobedience hurts and angers God who created us for higher purposes than our own selfish ones.
- If we alone bore the consequences of our actions, we would think less about disobeying since we would not be hurting anyone we love.
- By seeing others, especially those we love, hurt because of our sins, we learn to think of others instead of ourselves when we begin to make decisions.
- By suffering when someone else has been responsible for a sin, we learn to recognize that it is important to hold other people accountable for their actions and not simply live our life as an island.
- We learn to value community more through our understanding of our intertwining experiences.
The items listed above really boil down to one word: relationship. God wants us to be in relationship, first with Him and then with each other. God is for the building up of real, right relationships. He is against division, confusion, abuse and deception.
If God had not created us as communal, relational beings, our world would be completely different. But since we don’t live in that make-believe world, we have to deal with the laws of the one that we do find ourselves in. This world lives under the law that what each of us does has ripple effects beyond us, many of which we will never see or know. A kind word spoken, an act of mercy, a cheerful countenance — how many times have we been blessed by those ourselves even though the giver was never made aware?
We see the law played out in both Testaments. In the book of Joshua, we read the story of Achan who disobeyed God’s command to devote the entire contents of Jericho to the Lord. Achan took what was expressly forbidden. As a result, in the next battle when Israel attacked the small city of Ai, the Israelite army was routed. Thirty-six men lost their lives — not one of which the original sinner Achan. Joshua cried out to God along with the leaders. God’s answer was short and to the point: “Get up. Why are you crying? Israel has sinned and cannot have success against its enemies until the devoted items are removed from your midst.”
Wasn’t Joshua doing God’s will? Sure. They had been told to enter Canaan and wipe out the inhabitants. To do that meant they had to attack the various cities. Joshua was being obedient to God’s will when he sent the army to attack Ai. But unknown to Joshua, someone else’s disobedience was going to affect the results of other people’s desire to be obedient. What was unknown to Joshua, however, did not escape the eye of God.
Notice what God did not say: “Achan has sinned.” Rather, He said, “Israel has sinned.” Didn’t God know Achan’s name? Sure He did. Just like He knows yours and mine. But Achan was part of the community of Israel, the covenant people. And when Achan sinned, that meant Israel had sinned. Until the sin was removed, neither would the wrath be removed.
The next day, Achan was picked out, by lot, of the whole nation. There, before the people, he confessed his sin. Achan and his whole family, cattle and belongings were taken to the Valley of Trouble where they were stoned and burned with fire. It was then that the Lord turned from His anger and the children of Israel had success again in their dealings with Ai.
But that’s just Old Testament, right? After all, hasn’t God changed? And what about Ezekiel 18?
The answer is, yes, that story was in the Old Testament. But, no, God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. And Ezekiel 18 does not do away with the laws of consequences affecting other people, especially our children to the third and fourth generation. Rather, Ezekiel 18 states that the father would not be put to death for the sin of the child, and the child would not be put to death for the sin of the father. Being put to death and having residual punishment and consequences follow those who are in relationship with you are two different things.
In the New Testament, we are told in 1 Corinthians 5 that the church at Corinth had within their midst a man who claimed to be a follower of Jesus but who was involved in an immoral sexual relationship with his father’s wife. Further, the church had done nothing about this. Instead, they apparently considered themselves to be broadminded, grace-oriented and compassionate to the point that they were proud to be able to accept this man as one of their own. Paul cut to the chase: “Kick him out!” Paul demanded that the Corinthians purge themselves of this man and his influence upon the Christian community. In fact, they were not to even eat with someone like this man who was immoral or a drunkard, a slanderer, covetous or a list of other grave offences.
Why does one person’s sin affect the whole Christian community? For that matter, why does God still treat us in a corporate since if we have been saved individually?
Apparently we have missed the point. God created us to be corporate, relational beings. Our sin through the head of the human race and our consequential separation from God did not make God deviate from that purpose. Where there was sin, God sent His Son to be a Savior. Yet His purpose remains the same: to create a whole family of people who will bear the image of His Son throughout eternity. The Son will have preeminence as the Head over an entire Body. And the Holy Spirit will have a living temple made up of individual, living stones in which to dwell. It is the nature of families, bodies and temples that one part that is aberrant affects the health and future of all the rest of the parts.
So where does that leave us? Hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose in caring both for our own need to obey and our sense of responsibility to hold others accountable to the same. You can only do that where there is true community. And you can only experience true community where the members are willing to do that.
That community, that covenant people, is the place where God’s honor, glory, power and majesty will be found. All other places, no matter how noble their goals and their willingness to accomplish them, will find themselves frustrated again and again. Why? Because God’s rule for our lives says that what we do will affect others — good or bad. The lack of purity will bring shame, doubt and defeat into the local body of Christ, and others will eventually succumb to the temptation to sin. The commitment to purity will bring about a community of healing and freedom unlike anything the world has ever known.
Be blessed as you seek to live in community with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.