As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
— Luke 19:41-44 NIV
I feel a little bit like Jerusalem this week: under attack by a vicious army. As I’m experiencing some of the consequences of my past failure to follow God in a way that is both extremely dramatic and extremely traumatic, this verse from my Lenten reading series for this year seemed to resonate with my internal reflections about sin and its consequences.
It has been extremely difficult not to think of this week as a punishment being visited upon me. If I was ever trying to imagine a suitable embodiment of God’s vengeance for this particular type of disobedience, I don’t think I could have come up with a better one. As I go through all these cycles of confusion and anger and shame and sadness, there’s this voice in the back of my mind going, “Well, you do kind of deserve it, you know.”
But that kind of thinking denies the good news of the Gospel. The truth is that I do deserve punishment – for this and the whole host of sins I have committed and will commit over my life. Yet the crazy, overwhelming power of the Gospel is how it fundamentally changes my relationship to God; instead of forever being a sinner separated from His presence and His love, the miraculous work of Christ has changed me into a welcome daughter living in the light of his abundant mercy and faithfulness. I have been rescued from His vengeance, and saved from the wages of my sin … for good. Forever.
God is not punishing me. At the same time, His promise was not that my sin would never have consequences. It does, in broken relationships, in lost opportunities, in missed peace, whether that be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. Those things can be healed and restored – another blessed gift from Jesus’s work on the Cross – but the damage did happen. I believe that God works those things out for my good and the good of others, and turns those broken things into marvelous things you wouldn’t imagine they could be. That’s awesomely beautiful. I also know that He would have given me abundantly more if I had been able to acknowledge the better way He was offering me at the time.
Ultimately, this is not a sad week, although it felt like one as it started out. But dwelling on some image of mythical retribution was keeping me from seeing all the blessings that were being woven through the week to comfort and sustain me: the support of family and friends, the joy of celebrating special occasions, the peace of a little quiet time to think and heal. Even in the midst of what felt like a disaster, the Lord has been working things for good this whole time. And that is good news that I really needed to hear.