MDR: The earthly consequences argument

The next rebuttal argument correctly makes the point that sin has both heavenly and earthly consequences. If I kill a man, I may well repent and be forgiven by God. Nonetheless, I can confidently expect a prosecution and probable jail time if not the electric chair. Moreover, I can expect people to revile and fear me, and surely I will suffer a crippling sense of guilt and remorse. Thus, it is true that God’s grace does not prevent the earthly consequences of my sin.

The example is often given of David, who repented and was forgiven of his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband, Uriah. Even though God forgave David, God punished David by taking the life of the child born of their adulterous union and by causing the death of David’s three oldest sons.[1]

Thus, it is argued, God can certainly forgive the sin of divorce, but the earthly consequences remain. In the case of divorce, it is argued, the earthly consequences include the penalty of being unable to remarry.

The problem with this reasoning is that it misapprehends the very true point about earthly consequences. When a man divorces his wife, there are indeed earthly consequences. Anyone who has ever been through a divorce knows that the burdens and difficulties last for the rest of your life — especially if children are involved. The earthly consequences are very real indeed.

But in no case does the presence of earthly consequences justify the church in acting like a court of law. Contrary to Catholic doctrine,[2] the church does not have authority to impose penalties on its members to punish sin. The church neither forgives nor punishes. Rather, we follow God’s lead. If God forgives, we forgive. Simple enough.

Earthly consequences flow naturally from the evil of sin. These are not consequences that are imposed by the church. I mean, if we are to punish the divorced by denying them remarriage, what other sin are we to also punish? Why does the universal rule of earthly consequences only require the church to punish the divorced? Why aren’t we required to punish the greedy, the lustful, the lazy, the un-evangelistic, the materialistic, etc.?

(Rom 12:19) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

[1] 2 Sam. 11 ff.

[2] Many of the traditional arguments, although made by Protestants, have a heavy Catholic flavor. This is not surprising when you realize that the traditional view of divorce and remarriage derives from medieval Catholicism. The doctrine was formalized in the Council of Trent (1545-63), but was accepted by much of the Catholic world for centuries earlier. It is ironic that we seize so tightly a doctrine that was added to the Catholic creed as part of the Counter-Reformation, by the same council that instituted the Inquisition.


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