Forgiveness and Consequences

consequencesI need to do a follow-up to the “Forgive and Forget?” article that was published earlier this week. The reason that forgetting an incident is not an integral part of forgiving the incident is that all behavior has consequences. Let’s use as an example the individual who chooses to drive a vehicle while intoxicated or become otherwise distracted such as texting while driving. Either as a result of intoxication or distraction let’s assume that the individual runs over and kills a pedestrian. From either a biblical or a psychological perspective the individual can be forgiven either through confession and repentance in the biblical sense or the family of the victim may offer forgiveness for the act.

We’re told biblically that we are freed from the penalty of behaviors (sin in biblical terms) through forgiveness; however we are not freed from the consequences of those behaviors. We are told that that forgiveness puts us in a position, in God’s eyes, as if the sin had never occurred. In the example above, forgiveness, even God’s forgiveness, does not restore to life the person who was killed nor does it give a reset to the memories of all involved parties as if the behavior never occurred.

In my practice I often deal with the aftermath of behaviors that have been forgiven but not forgotten. Infidelity in a marriage is an act that can be forgiven; however the consequences of loss of trust, broken promises, emotional damage and, in some cases, pregnancies do not go away with the forgiveness. While trust can be rebuilt and emotions healed, some of the consequences impact completely innocent individuals.

Unwanted pregnancies, whatever the cause, (infidelity, adultery or sexual assault) have long-lasting consequences. In our throwaway culture we have come to believe that terminated pregnancies are the equivalent of a reset in people’s lives. The truth is that there are often long-term consequences to either abortion or carrying the baby to term. The mothers, regardless of the circumstances, are left to bear (pun intended) the brunt of the consequences. In the event of an abortion there are often long-term feelings of guilt or remorse. If the child is carried to term then the issues of adoption or single parenting have to be considered.

It is my understanding that two of the most common predictors of poverty for young woman are single parenting and lack of education. It is a reality that children who are left with only one parent, regardless of the circumstances, often have long-term issues with abandonment and attachment.

Children that are raised in poverty or single-parent homes are more likely to be involved in the commission of crimes as well as being the victim of crimes. These children did not ask to be involved with adults who made decisions that are irresponsible and of which the children had no input. They are simply left to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of that decision-making process; in other words, the consequences of behavior.

In short, the ripple effect of the consequences of behavior will go on for generations. Your decision to drive while intoxicated, text while driving, create unwanted pregnancies or an infinite number of other decisions that affect innocent people will likely create consequences for people you don’t know, for times that you cannot imagine.

I believe that life is built on choices and that you are the product of the consequences of all of the choices you have ever made. I have made that statement to scores of college students and clients but will now add the caveat that the consequences of decisions of others have affected you and your decisions have affected others.

My call to action here is to imagine your life as if it were the result of a plan. If your life is not where you planned it to be, rethink the decisions you have made and then plan to make decisions with more positive outcomes. If the results of your decisions have caused grief in other people’s lives, take responsibility for those actions and seek guidance in how to do damage control for them. You do not have the right to create grief in someone else’s life but you do have the responsibility to take accountability for the grief you have caused.

Manage your life and the need for damage control is greatly reduced.