Her name was Paige. She was the sweetest little girl you can imagine. Her laugh was contagious and her awareness and kindness towards others was notable. She was nine when it first happened, but it wasn’t till she was sixteen that it stopped. She was violated by a man – a trusted family friend. Over and over, through her younger years this went on. She was young enough when it started and it was never violent so it simply became a part of the landscape of her early life. Finally, the crime was discovered and she was free to move into the rest of her life; but that’s not how things like this work.
She grew up never fully recovering from the evils that were committed against her. In her brokenness, she couldn’t function in relationships in a healthy way. She was married later in life but her marriage always struggled because her husband couldn’t fill the void etched into her soul. Her kids later suffered as well because she was so protective of them that they never had a chance to grow up.
This story is completely made up, yet it is probably a more common situation than any of us want to think about. It only took me a few minutes to write that story but it made me squirm in my seat as I wrote. I imagine you felt a similar unease as you read it. There is something deeply wrong about a situation like that and we know it. You put up the money required for bail. You’ve followed all of the restrictions of your bail. You feel that you have done everything right in this situation. So, when do you get bail money back?
Why did I start this like that? I wanted to demonstrate a fraction of the destructiveness of sin. That trusted family friend’s actions didn’t only affect Paige when it was happening it impacted her whole life. Her future marriage, her children, and every relationship she had were changed by his actions. I’m sure that fictional man’s family was affected too.
This story is admittedly an extreme example but all sins have lifelong ripple effects. We all have a story of a time when someone spoke some cutting words that still affect us today. Even the best parents can say something seemingly simple that then damage their child’s future perspective of themselves.
I grew up in Rwanda, a small country in central Africa. In 1994, one of the largest genocides since the holocaust took place there. My family was evacuated by the United Nations at the time. Although the atrocities committed during that war were great they don’t represent the beginning of the story. The battle between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes had been going on for hundreds of years. One generation would see their parents slaughtered in front of them and they would grow up to hate the tribe that had hurt them. They would then retaliate and kill the opposing tribes parents and the vicious cycle continued.
Our sense of justice cries out in us that these things are wrong and must be dealt with. It’s not okay for a person to make decisions that alter the course of another person’s life forever. Here is the great dilemma: we are all caught in the vicious cycle. I heard pastor of Andy Stanley (Northpoint Community Church) ask a few questions once in one of his sermons that illustrate our predicament well. If you could snap your fingers and make everything bad in the world disappear, would you? Before you say yes, have you ever done anything bad? Has anyone you loved ever done anything bad?
If we were to say yes to that question the man who had abused a 9-year-old girl would disappear, but that girl would also disappear because in her brokenness she went on to hurt others as well. We are trapped between our sense of justice and the reality that we deserve justice ourselves.
“The just and the justifier.” I have always loved this reference in Romans 3:26. These two references to God are so central to the gospel. The depths of God’s wisdom are demonstrated in them. In Jesus we find the only solution to the vicious cycle we all are caught in. Jesus takes all our sin and is appropriately punished for it. Justice is served! All the evil things that we do and that have been done to us can be dealt with. God proves to be JUST! At the same time he opens a door to grace.
Psalm 85:10 says, “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”
The ripple effects of Jesus’ work are beautiful. Without the cross, forgiveness would be unjust. Now we are free to forgive justly because sin WILL BE PUNISHED either through the cross or at the judgment of the world.
Only God could come up with such a plan. God, who is both holy and merciful found a way to act on both attributes at the same time. I love it!