Can one reasonably expect to live in a morally charged universe that doesn’t involve consequences for immorality? This question seems to be at the heart of much public debate in 2020.
Some 70 years ago, CS Lewis noted the inescapable and ironic reality of human morality (Mere Christianity). Lewis said there are “two odd things about the human race.” First, he insisted that human beings are “haunted” by ideas of morality, decency, and fairness. Second, he observed that human beings consistently fail to live up to their own ideas of morality, decency, and fairness. In other words, Lewis insisted that human being are inescapably moral creatures. We may disagree about the boundaries of morality, but we all believe in right and wrong.
When human beings fail to live up to their innate ideas about morality – that is, when they fail to live up to the Law of God that is etched on every human conscience – there are always consequences. The Bible calls this failure sin, and the Bible clearly teaches that there are consequences for human sin. These consequences are both earthly and eternal.
This concept of sin and consequences is a major emphasis of the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs. Sometimes, the consequences of sin apply to the immoral individual. Sometimes, the consequences of sin apply to people connected to the immoral individual (family, friends, fellow citizens). Sometimes, the consequences of sin apply to the immoral individual and people connected to the immoral individual. The Bible is clear: you can pick your sin, but you don’t get to pick the consequences of your sin. Wisdom understands that when God’s Law is violated there are consequences.
It seems to me, that many of our current, public debates about the role of government and the legislation of “morality” actually revolve around the consequences that stem from immorality. Simply put, in the United States, many people want to be able to pick their sin and avoid all potential consequences.
Consider the following examples:
- Sex, Pregnancy, STDs … There are consequences when a person engages in sex outside of marriage. The widespread availability of the birth control pill offered “control” over one of the most obvious consequences of sex, babies. Abortion on demand provides a stop gap for any possible consequences that “slip by” the pill. Another consequence of sexual immorality is sexually transmitted disease. Eager to make a dollar, pharmaceutical companies have provided pills and treatments for just about any kind of STD that may arise from sexual immorality. In all of these areas, human beings are seeking to avoid the consequences of sexual immorality. We want to have our sin without any consequences.
- Police Violence … The role and behavior of police has been a hot topic in recent days. Only a fool would argue that police are always justified in their use of physical force. Police are human beings. They make mistakes. However, it would be equally foolish to expect police officers – as fallible, finite human beings – to respond perfectly in complicated, dangerous, fast-moving situations. No amount of training will eliminate all mistakes when human beings are involved. When the police have been called for domestic violence, when people are running from the cops, when people try to resist arrest and fight the cops, when people are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, there will be consequences.
- Family Breakdown … God designed marriage, and God designed the nuclear family. In this design, husband and wife are to function as loving parents for their children. When this pattern of family is ignored, there are consequences. In 2020, it would be hard to find a person who’s personal life and family life have not been impacted by a broken marriage or some kind of domestic abuse. Related to these issues is the fact that millions of American children grow up in fatherless homes. This is not God’s design, and children who grow up without fathers in the home have to deal with the consequences of the decisions made by absent fathers. Politicians have yet to devise a government program that can compensate for things like economic hardship, teenage delinquency, and a total lack of respect for authority – all of which are more common among fatherless children.
- Wicked Acquaintances … The book of Proverbs warns about the danger of associating with wicked, immoral people. The person who hangs out with foolish, wicked people can expect to face serious consequences for their choice in friends. As Americans, we want to be treated as individuals, and we certainly don’t want to be blamed for the mistakes of others. Nevertheless, bad company really does corrupt good morals, and simply being around foolish, wicked people can have serious consequences. No public policy can prevent this reality. When a person befriends a fool, they are accepting the possibility (and maybe the probability) that the decisions of a fool will have serious consequences in their own life.
- Education and Hard Work … Communism offers the false hope of equal, shared prosperity. America was built on a different hope, that is, the idea of equal opportunity. We do not promise or expect equal prosperity for all Americans, but we do want to provide equal opportunity for all Americans. Clearly this “opportunity” has not always been available to all Americans throughout our history. But today there are real opportunities for anyone who will work hard. Neglecting these opportunities has significant economic consequences, as well as significant generational consequences. Again, sometimes the consequences of our folly are felt by the people around us and the people related to us. These consequences simply cannot be erased by a government program seeking equal prosperity.
In the United States there is a battle between two visions of life and two visions of government. One vision recognizes the inevitability of morality and consequences. This vision seeks to embrace personal and generational responsibility, and it seeks wisdom. The other vision rejects the inevitability of morality and consequences. This vision seeks to live according to personal whim and preference, and it seeks to live for the moment.
The first vision accepts the reality of biblical wisdom and reckons with the maxim, “You reap what you sow.” The second vision rejects biblical wisdom and common sense, choosing to live for the moment while hoping and expecting the government to negate the consequences of their folly.
The first vision expects government to provide equal opportunity and level the playing field. The second vision expects government to provide equal prosperity and level the final score.
The first vision is wisdom. The second vision is folly.
If the material or outward consequences of sin aren’t enough to dissuade the fool from his folly, the psychological (mental) disintegration and spiritual (communal) anguish that must necessarily follow willful rebellion against God’s order may be the greatest stopgap until the Spirit of Life intervenes with the lifeline (the only solution to our inability to practice perfection) of Jesus Christ. These consequences can linger long after the antibiotic and the clinic have patched up the body. Soul bankruptcy carries perhaps the greatest danger of the eternal, fiery torment that becomes anything but metaphorical to the sinner.
I agree 100% … the consequences of sin are not enough to turn the fool from his or her folly. I think this is true on an earthly / temporal level, as well as in the afterlife. That is, there are no repentant people in hell. Amen to the thought that only the Spirit of God is capable of removing our hearts of stone and replacing them with a heart of flesh. And amen to the notion that the consequences of sin linger even after the Spirit has turned our hearts and we have been adopted into God’s family.