A Can Of Worms!
by Ruth Ann Cramer
“God will understand.”
My heart sank at the quaver in her voice. I knew then, the young woman had taken the life of her viable, and unborn, son.
My spirit burned with pain. “So, you’ve had the abortion.” I said.
“Oh, yes,” she breathed, “I can get on with my life now. My parents will stay proud of me. The clinic says no one will ever know. I’m so happy. I know God understands.”
Just days ago, and beneath my hand, her baby had moved in her womb. I grieved for him.
Several times in the three months I’d counseled her, she’d spoken of “traditional” parents who’d worked hard to build a string of businesses she hoped to inherit. She feared if they found she was sexually active — which her pregnancy would surely prove — they’d be embarrassed, think badly of her, and cut her out of their Last Will. Her inheritance would go to another.
Seven years went by. Then, late one night, this same woman called me in tears. For the last four years, she’d been married to a man for whom she cared deeply. Coming from a large family, he loved children and eagerly waited their starting a family. She’d carefully hidden from him, her history of two abortions. Because she’d gotten pregnant “so easily”, twice before, she assumed there’d be no problem getting pregnant with their anticipated “first-born”.
They’d spent a fortune searching for the cause of her infertility. Imagine her husband’s dismay when told by specialists that complications from her two abortions had so scarred her reproductive system, she’d be unable to carry a child. He forgave that she hid her sexual history from him, but he found, no matter how much he tried, he could not forget that two children had been put to death — two children, he reasoned, that could have been his children. He wasn’t sure he could go on with the marriage.
She demanded I talk to him, convince him, make him understand that she’d had no other options but to abort, both times. I was to lie to him — for her sake. I declined.
“It’s not fair!” she railed. “What I did happened in the past! The effects should have stayed in the past, too! I asked God’s forgiveness, so why should I suffer after I’ve said I’m sorry? God’s just punishing me!”
In spite of knowing God’s law concerning the taking of human life, she’d chosen to exercise her free will by taking the lives of other human beings — the ultimate nose-thumb at God — Who, after all, had created them and endowed them with human spirit. She wanted the results of the abortions. She did not want the results of having chosen the abortions.
She thought God understood — in a way, bordering on presumption — and that His understanding and forgiveness should have erased the effects of her sin, should have made her sin not matter now. She wanted her past changed; its consequences gone, blown away — as smoke dissipates in a high wind — never to be seen again; never to be in evidence against her, or her motives.
While God would have forgiven her, had she asked, God would not have interfered and overridden her free will and human history by changing the effects of what she’d deliberately chosen to do.
Another woman came to me — haunted, and in deep despair — and poured out her story. Her husband had repeated affairs, saying that even though he loved her, she no longer satisfied him, and therefore he had no choice but to seek satisfaction with others. She begged him to stop, even had their Pastor talk to him. He refused to stop or see a counselor with her.
She flushed with shame. “So, I had a quick affair with a married man I didn’t even like, just to show my husband how much betrayal hurt. Instead, he applauded me, saying it was about time I broke free of my Catholic upbringing; and now, we could both “play around” and still stay married. I decided to divorce him — we had no children, so it should have gone smoothly. But . . . “
While she caught her breath, I prayed and listened still deeper for wisdom and discernment.
Her voice broke. “I found I was pregnant with the other man’s baby. I kept him — a darling son I loved with all my being. He filled the emptiness in my life, the loneliness in my heart; I thought him God’s gift of consolation.” She cried, “I told God I was sorry for my sin; that I’d never sin again . . . still, when my son was five, he got meningitis. I begged God’s mercy. But, God let him die — I think He even, made him die.”
She wailed in abject misery. “I’m haunted by regret and guilt. I can’t stop hating myself. I’m angry and bitter at a God who would punish my adultery by taking my son from me!”
No wonder she suffered such deep despair. Evil, taking advantage of her heavy guilt and deep sorrow, had lied, and still lied to her, saying God punished her sin by taking her son’s life. Believing God would chastise a sinner by a vengeful act against an innocent child, slanders a holy God. What a terrible accusation and indictment she’d accepted against God.
I assured her that God’s allowing the consequences of her exercise of free will (in this case, resulting in sin) could in no way be seen as God’s punishment! Or, as God’s “revenge”! This is not only wrong thinking; worse, it’s wrong believing.
While our transgressions may, or may not, have been as grave as those mentioned — or, may have been even worse — we’ve all been there. We’ve all done something — large or small, serious or trivial, deliberate or not so willful; or even unthinking — things we did not intend to do, nor ever would again. Things we shouldn’t have done, might not have done, wouldn’t have done, had we known what would happen as a result.
But . . . instead of sin solving our problems, sin made of life a can of worms. We prayed to God that the unintended consequences of our sin would be changed, nullified, ignored, done away with — certainly, left undiscovered and hidden. But, they weren’t. They aren’t. They haven’t. They most probably will never be.
WISHFUL SINNING: SIN WITH NO EFFECTS
We want to sin, but we want no harmful effects of those sins to come about.
Yes, the reality is: We want to do . . . what we want to do! Especially in the urgency of passion . . . the heat of anger . . . the confusion of fear . . . the heart-pounding desperation to effect, change or stop something we don’t want to happen. We want to believe that God, because He’s a good God, will change or stay the negative effects of our using our free will — even if, sometimes, it means negating the effects of someone else using their free will.
And, if God doesn’t keep bad things from happening, we think to accuse Him of being callous and not caring, of not really forgiving us at all — as if God deliberately sets about to cause harmful effects after we’ve sinned! We want our can of worms to be God’s fault.
Yes, we’re tempted to consider — could God be causing this? Could God be to blame? If we’re truthful, we might remember being tempted to believe this calumny against God’s love for His children.
Consider that what drives us most to believe the worst of God is perhaps the ugliest, and most painful, effect of our sin — our guilt. Because our guilt is painful and ugly; because it reminds us of who we truly are and of what evil we are capable, we want to push it away, scrub and cleanse it, silence it, put it to death, have it absolved — anything! Just so we no longer feel it. Or remember it.
Sometimes, when guilt refuses to go, and we’re looking for ways to ease it, evil tempts us — maybe, it’s really His fault. After all, He’s God! He can and could fix anything He wants. So, if He won’t fix things, or isn’t letting us off the hook . . . maybe we should make it His guilt. Looking at the ugly effects of our sin, feeling the awful weight of our guilt and remorse, we can always point our finger of accusation and blame at the Offended, rather than at ourselves, the Offenders; or point even at others — and make it His fault, or their fault — but not ours.
Those who know and love God will not listen to evil’s accusations, but will take their guilt directly to God. There is no substitute for going to God when it comes to human guilt.
For our hope and encouragement, as well as instruction, Scripture not only provides dramatic and concrete images of God dealing with our guilt, God’s Word motivates us to deal quickly with it:
“Who is a God like thee, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion upon us, he will tread our iniquities under foot. Thou wilt cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Mic 7:18,19 RSV)
“The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Ex 34:6,7 RSV)
“… for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Dt 5:9,10 RSV)
WISHFUL THINKING: THE “IF ONLY’S!” OF LIFE
If only I hadn’t done it! If only I could do it over! If only God would fix it!
If only no one would ever find out! If only I’d never be exposed!
If only “being free” meant, “being free of the effects” of my sins, or the sins of another!
Or, now that God has forgiven me and absolved my guilt, if only God would change the bad effects of my sin, and make only good come about. If only He’d contradict my bad decisions and change what I set in motion, as if my sin had never happened!
If only He’d make another’s coldness towards me, turn to respect and love. If only He’d cause the moribund vows and promises we made, revive, re-ignite; come back to life . . .
If only He’d stop bullets mid-air, dull the knives of vicious words and slander. If only He’d stop peoples and families and countries from warring!
If only God would let His children do what they want to do — without unwanted consequences.
Then! we tell ourselves, we’d not be made to watch as the damaging effects of our acts of free will — whether committed through ignorance, weakness, selfishness, self-preservation — or for any one of a million reasons — rattle down through the lives of our loved ones, their loved ones, on and on, for generations to come!
For, haven’t we all seen individuals and families nearly destroyed by the willful stubbornness of selfish and self-centered individuals, who — under the guise of “being free to be me” or “finding themselves” — have relished in their refusal to love, give, sacrifice and serve?
An unmarried couple came to us. The woman was leaving her husband and a large number of young children because she was pregnant by the man, who was also leaving his spouse and numerous children. (The two couples had been in Bible Study together.) Asking us to bless their plans, they used, manipulated and misconstrued Scriptural passages to argue this rationale: As soon as both their divorces were final, they’d quickly marry — like, in the next hour — and immediately! get down on their knees and repent.
Then, because they’d repented, they reasoned, God would have to forgive them. And, because of God’s guaranteed forgiveness, they assured us, no harm would come to their abandoned families — and all would be well before God; they had assurance of Heaven. They believed, as did the first two women above, that they could sin and repent; and their sin should have no effect. (I spare you details of the horrendous devastation caused in all these families.)
Yes — Thank God! — God will cast away all our sins. But, cast away the consequences of sin — unintended or not — committed by our own free will? Most assuredly not.
Yes, it’s always possible God will change consequences — God can do anything He wants — but God, Who created man’s free will, will not take free will from us.
Face it! If God took our free will, we’d not be free creatures! We’d be PUPPETS! If God interfered; if God stopped or changed the things we want or choose to do, we might as well have strings for arms!
God in His infinite love and goodness, created us with a free will so we might choose to love and obey Him, or not. If we choose not, we separate ourselves from Him. This is sin.
So, if we’ve separated ourselves from Him by our sin, are we hopeless? Are we helpless?
No! No! No! For we are guaranteed eternal hope by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, His resurrection, and ascent to His Father! Yes! God — Who is, ultimately, the One most deeply offended by our acts of self-will — will forgive us if we ask Him. Yes! God will forgive us if we confess our sin and repent! If we repent, the grace to live in Him will come!
Repent? “Ugh!” human nature wants to complain. “Yuck! I have to repent?” We grouse, “Isn’t it enough I’m embarrassed and feeling terrible? Isn’t it enough I’m sick to death and filled with sorrow?”
No, it’s not enough. To repent, means we must take action — and turn! We must change direction and go to God, not towards ourselves, not towards others. Being sorry, or feeling awful, feeling guilty or ashamed . . . is not repentance.
Oswald Chambers says:
“Repentance always brings a man to this point: I have sinned. The surest sign that God is at work is when a man says that and means it. Anything less than this is remorse for having made blunders, the reflex action of disgust at himself. … Examine yourself and see if you have forgotten how to be sorry.” (My Utmost For His Highest. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1935; reading for December 7th.)
Warning! While true sorrow brings life, the regrets and “if only’s” of life can bring death. They are made to kill us.
These useless thoughts plague us, depress us, turn our thoughts to shame, regret, bitterness and self-hate — even to thoughts of self-destruction. Forging themselves into our memories and self-assessment, they make it nearly impossible to learn from our mistakes, to recover and move on. (Please see my companion article, Coulda! Woulda! Shoulda! in The Sandbox.)
We feel we can’t forgive ourselves, can’t forgive others; and sometimes, can’t forgive God for allowing our sin, and not protecting us from bringing on such trouble.
Evil then insinuates itself into our thinking and our “feeling”. It implicates. Accuses. Condemns.
Never one to ignore openings and opportunities to afflict us, evil piles on to shame, burden and suffocate us; to lead us to despair and hate. Pushing us to ultimately give in to evil’s most deadly thrust — suicide — evil goads us to bring as many others as possible, to a similar fate. (How many families with innocent spouses and children, have been murdered by those given over to despair?) It’s imperative we not open, nor listen, to evil’s thrusts at our soul, spirit and mind!
As responsible beings who want to face truth and deal with it, we must learn to recognize a demon’s work and do battle. Jesus believed in demons and dealt with them; He told his followers to do the same! (See Matthew’s Special Series SR1: The Devil and Evil Entities in The Sandbox ) The work of Satan cannot be overemphasized! We must not leave ourselves vulnerable. We must do all we can to keep ourselves in God’s good graces. Study the Holy Spirit’s word in Scripture concerning the work of the Devil. Inculcate the truths; let them direct our actions and help us wage spiritual warfare in the spiritual plane.
So! Through the unintended consequences of sin, our lives have become “a can of worms”. What are we to do?
First, and foremost, nothing substitutes for coming before God — preferably on our faces — and begging for His mercy. We must confess our sin — not try to convince God we weren’t guilty. God reads our hearts! God knows the circumstances and motivations. Don’t waste time giving excuses or equivocation. We must confess, ask God’s forgiveness and make a firm commitment to live in God’s grace from that time on. We must repent, do whatever it takes to live a righteous life, including forgiving others; if not in person, in our intentions. (See Forgive ….. Or Not!)
For Catholics, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is imperative. The sooner, the better!
The sooner, the better, for all! We must banish the corrosiveness of regret; refuse to let it linger and establish hold in our minds, our hearts, our spirits. Once we’ve confessed and been forgiven, we stand at the foot of The Cross and hand up our sin and its consequences to Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior — Who, after all, hung there, suffered and died that our sins might be forgiven, and that we be reconciled in loving relationship to His Father.
The New Testament guarantees forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and the Son of God, Who sits at the right hand of the Father.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Ro 5:8-10 RSV)
Saved by His death! Saved by His life! Jesus Christ, Fisher of Men, might yet show us how to make use of our can of worms. Also being fishers of men, suppose we cast off the pain and stink of our past sin and its unintended consequences — and grab our fishing poles of hope! Let’s recast our lines into the future! And let God grace us with the Life only He can give.
Good fishing, everyone!