We've been talking about why "bad things" happen. This post considers the second type of bad thing which I want to cover.
The second type of bad thing to consider is that which comes as natural consequences to our own bad choices or wrong behavior. The world would say that “we get what we deserve,” “we get what’s coming to us,” or “what goes around comes around.” I’m sure you’ve heard these expressions. The Bible says that we will reap what we sow. Anyone who has ever planted a garden or flowers or a field knows the truth of that statement. I’ve never planted tomatoes and harvested cucumbers from them. (I may plant tomatoes and end up with weeds along side them, however; but that’s a different topic . . . .)
Why should we expect it to be any different when it comes to our choices of behavior? If I rob a bank, I should expect to get caught and to be thrown into prison. If I cheat on a test in school, I should expect to fail the test or worse—get kicked out of class or out of school. And even when it comes to things not necessarily against the law or against the rules of a group, if I gossip about my friends, I should expect them to gossip about me in return. That’s just the way it is.
Lamentations 3: 39 (written by the prophet Jeremiah) asks, “Why does a living man complain when he is punished for his sins?” That is a good question, indeed. Why should we complain about the bad things that happen to us when those bad things are simply the result or consequences of our bad choices? Jeremiah’s solution is simple: “Let us search and examine our ways and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift in our hands our hearts to God in the heavens.”
Of course, he’s not saying to literally cut out our heart and lift it up. We all know that. (First of all, after cutting out our heart, we wouldn’t be able to do anything—we’d be dead.) The prophet is speaking figuratively. After we consider our choices and behavior, we should realize what we did wrong and repent for that. We should ask God to forgive us, and then we should re-commit our lives and our choices to him, in worship and surrender to his will and to his ways.
Of course, that doesn’t always remove the consequences. If I’ve robbed a bank, been imprisoned, then repented, I still will have to serve my time. But there is hope for a better life afterwards. The prophet Micah (chapter 7, verse 9) describes the heart condition of one who is suffering the consequences of their wrong behavior, but, having repented, is waiting upon the Lord to resolve the matter. Sometimes God does reverse the consequences; sometimes he just gets us through them so we can move on.
The important thing to remember is that we do have a personal responsibility to ourselves, to society, and to God, to make right choices: choices that are not harmful to us or to others, choices that benefit society, and choices that do not violate the holiness of God. If we fail to make those “right” choices, we can expect “bad things” to happen as consequences.
The apostle Peter talks about our next kind of “bad thing” in 1 Peter 4: 14: persecution, which we will take up next time. But he also makes a very good statement for us: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil-doer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.” If we are just getting what we deserve for our own actions, then we have no right to complain about the “bad things” which are happening. And we definitely have no business blaming God for such natural consequences.
I saw this statement posted in a high school classroom in which I was substitute teaching:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become your words.
Watch your words, for they become your actions.
Watch your actions, for they become your habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
If we had to compress that into one step, we could say it like this: “Watch your behavior, for it becomes your future.”
Let’s not end up suffering bad things as a result of our own bad choices. When that’s the case, we have no excuse.
Next post: The third kind of “bad thing.”
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