Consequences. We all know what it’s like to have to face the consequences of our poor choices. It’s the sowing and reaping principle explained in Galatians 6:7-8, “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” It’s how God has made the universe to operate: every action comes with ramification.
Although the consequences we experience aren’t always pleasant, they are a result of God’s mercy nevertheless. Often, this is how God gets our attention, directing us away from sin and toward righteousness, and teaching us important lessons we simply wouldn’t learn any other way.
Can you just imagine a world where actions didn’t have consequences? Where we didn’t experience regret as a result of hurting someone, fear of missing out because we refused to step outside our comfort zone, or a lack of peace as a result of giving into temptation? If we didn’t have to deal with these negative consequences, how would we ever have an incentive to change? Why would we ever make an effort to set things right in our relationships, or take risks, or seek to grow in holiness and purity?
We should be thankful for the painful effects that naturally result from our poor decision making! If they didn’t exist, we would be in big trouble. They are designed by our loving Father who is committed to teaching us a better way.
“The Bible reveals this consistent pattern,” write doctors Henry Cloud and John Townsend in their book How People Grow. “God would try to help the Israelites, talk to them, and give them resources and promises in the hope that they would turn to him. When they did not, he would send prophets with severe warnings. If this confrontation did the trick, things would be better. But sometimes the Israelites would not listen to the prophets, and then it was time for consequences. To discipline Israel, God would send a flood or a plague or, often, an army from a neighboring country. He used many methods to persuade them to see the reality of their ways and its consequences.”
Having to deal with the consequences of our own actions is one thing. Allowing others to experience the ramifications of their actions, that’s a different story. This is where we as Christians – because we so desperately want to be “nice” to people – often mess up.
In our efforts to be “helpful”, we rescue others from problematic situations when the person should be learning how to help themselves. Feeling sorry for a fellow brother or sister and thinking it’s “unchristian” not to step in, we unwittingly set others up for failure. We don’t give them a chance to face their fears and insecurities or to grow in dependence on God. And as the individual is kept from facing the logical consequences of their actions, they are allowed to continue along a debilitating path. In psychology, this is called enabling.
At the outset, helping people is a good thing. There are, however, times when what we think is helpful to someone is not helpful at all – not in the long term. Thinking we are doing a good thing, we are actually robbing a fellow Christian of the opportunity to learn valuable lessons – lessons that could, in fact, help eliminate their issues altogether.
This is where we need to be careful. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for someone is to allow them to learn from their mistakes as they are forced to face the harsh realities that they have brought upon themselves. Yes, even if it hurts them. Even if it ends up causing them frustration, setbacks, and additional challenges. Even if they end up suffering losses as a result, be it financial or otherwise.
Again, this is how God deals with us. He purposely places us in situations where we are forced to come face-to-face with our flaws and our fears. He doesn’t bail us out. He exercises tough love. And He does it because He cares about our future, not merely our present circumstances.
Because God wants to mold us into men and women of great character, He gives us opportunities to learn the difficult, sometimes painful, lessons He knows we desperately need in order to mature. It is always done in love and for the purpose of making us more like Jesus.
So, then, rather than shielding people from the consequences of their sin, let’s seek to love them with the kind of “big picture”, forward-looking love with which God loves us. No, it’s not always going to be easy. It’s going to take wisdom and courage on our part, as well as trust: trust that when we step back, stop interfering, and leave the difficult person to themselves, God will still be there for them to teach them His ways. By the way, God knows exactly how to deal with the individual and He will do a much better job at it than you or I ever could. He does not need our help!