Answering a Reader’s Comments

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Yesterday a reader left a comment on my post Feeling Sorry for Sins that raised a lot of good questions/points for which I had no immediate clear answers. I had to sit down and think/write my way through them all, and once I did, I thought my “reply” was awfully long for the comments section so I decided to use the questions and my thoughts on them as the springboard for this post.

The reader began,

I found your post interesting as I have not thought about the connection between sorrow and confession, or lack there of.  However, in your 7th point you say that God is not hurt when we sin and this seems to make light of the sins a person commits.

Me: How can saying that God is not “hurt” make light of our sins? Sins that God sent His beloved Son to pay for, and for which the Son went to the Cross and died a horrible death, so that we could be permanently reconciled with God. I would think, if anything,  to insist that God is still hurt by sins already judged and paid for by Christ is to make light of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

Reader: In a relationship with God we are free to come to Him through Christ, but if I just spent the whole day defying Him does that mean that because Christ has already paid for that sin that God feels no betrayal or grief at my refusal to obey Him?

Why would He feel betrayed? He knew exactly what you were going to do before you did it. He already paid for it. This is maybe the point that we struggle to really embrace – the total and complete efficacy of Christ’s death on the Cross for every single sin and act of betrayal against God that was ever committed. Judged then and there, once and for all. If His death was enough to satisfy the wrath that God’s righteousness ‘experiences’ in the face of sin and the demands of His justice that the perpetrator of the sin be removed from His presence … and if He’s already given us Believers His own righteousness and declared our old nature to have been crucified with Christ… what does that mean but that no, He’s not going to feel “hurt” when we do the very sin He knew we were going to commit and that He could have stopped if He chose to long before we ever do it. A sin that He already poured out on Christ.  It’s not I who sin, but the sin that still dwells within me. The dead, old nature, which has been crucified with Christ, ie, judged with Christ.

Reader: I agree that He is not surprised, but (and this is a human argument) just because you are not surprised when a nurse stabs you with a needle doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt. If a God-fearing man and wife choose to have a nasty divorce in which their children are emotionally wounded for the rest of their life are you saying that God does not hurt because of their decision to disobey Him?

I don’t think you can use the human argument to explain this part of God. Humans are by nature physical, limited, time-bound, changeable, self-oriented, legalistic. God is none of those. Moreover, we don’t easily foresee the blessing that can come from pain and sorrow, life experiences that God uses to mold us into the image of His son. Or that He uses to draw unbelievers to Himself.  To use your example, if a couple get a nasty divorce, do you really believe God cannot heal the wounds of both the couple and the children should they choose to turn back to Him?

In fact, if even one of those people, coming out of that circumstance decides to follow God and let himself be molded into the vessel God desires to mold him into, one full of love and joy and peace and patience and forgiveness… the nasty divorce now becomes the black backdrop against which God’s own glory can truly shine. Man, left to himself, could never make that kind of turnaround. But God can do it in us if we let Him, and that is a big way in which we can bring glory to Him.

Reader: Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you. It just seems that according to Eph. 4:29-32 it is possible to grieve the Spirit by our actions, even though they have already been paid for.

I think He’s grieved because He knows our stupid actions in rejecting His guidance will only lead to pain and sorrow and loss for us and those are not what He desires.

I think He’s grieved because of the loss of intimacy He desires to have with us, where He can guide us and comfort us and lead us into all truth. He’s grieved not out of hurt, but because we’re living as if we haven’t been forgiven, as if our Daddy isn’t the God of the universe who loves us more than we can imagine, and that we really aren’t the apple of His eye after all.

He’s grieved because we’re living in a dead place, a place of unbelief (our crucified old nature) stumbling around with our eyes closed, when if we’d just open them we’d see the light and walk in it, or better yet, swim in those rivers of living water He has for us and having an amazing life.

And that, I believe, is what He wants, not for us to apologize or confess or spend any time mourning our idiocy — we’re all weak and silly sheep, and if we really believed that, I don’t think we would spend one moment in mourning our inevitable failures, but rather in rejoicing over all that our Father has done for us despite the fact that we are weak and don’t deserve any of it.

9 thoughts on “Answering a Reader’s Comments

  1. stephen cornwell

    I have followed your posts and take it all in. I am still processing some of it and seeing it through your eyes. I have to say that as long as I have been a believer, which is all my life (40 years), and come from a long line of preachers in the family, I don’t know if I have ever heard someone describe the type of grief the Holy Spirit suffers if we grieve Him like you did. Great way to see it from another view and I will process and meditate on that.

    Stephen

    Reply
  2. kwiering

    God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. He was and is and always will be. To say God is not hurt when we sin is to forget Christ’s suffering. He bore the sins of humanity and the Father turned his face away. It was through Christ that God showed us He understood what it is to be human in a way humanity can understand. I put forth that time is different for someone outside of time. Even though it was so long ago, it is still Him.

    Isaiah 53:5 “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

    Yes, salvation is complete for all of our sin. For this reason, Christians shouldn’t be mired by guilt. But, at the same time, Christians should also strive for perfection, not live in sin that grace may abound.

    For me personally, I apologize when I catch myself sinning and am ready to change from that sin. I ask for help overcoming the desires of the ‘old man’. I feel remorse when I sin, the same as a child disobeying a forgiving father would still feel remorse. My point is, that although I am covered by grace, I still feel I should admit I’m wrong when I screw up.

    Reply
    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, kwiering. By all means we should admit we’re wrong when we are. You aren’t likely to change your mind or turn away from something you’re doing/thinking until you realize it’s wrong. On the other hand, I do not believe Christians should strive for perfection. That is an unreachable goal, reserved for heaven alone. Instead, we should strive to know the Word of God and live in what it says.

      Reply
  3. Glenn

    Hi Karen,

    Dealing with repentance can be a very difficult thing because of the different definitions that are used. Many pastors are taught in seminary that there are three components to repentance:

    1) Intellectual
    2) Emotional
    3) Volitional

    I tracked down a blog post that provides some of the detail: Summary and Discussion: Intellectual, Emotional, Volitional. That post was written by a student at the Master’s Seminary (John MacArthur’s seminary) but a wide variety of seminaries teach the same thing.

    The definition of repentance we were taught is considered to be very radical by many theologians.

    Glenn

    Reply
    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for the link, Glenn. Although I have to say that writer’s idea of repentance sounds pretty awful. I could hardly get through the first paragraph, before I was giving thanks I’d not been taught in that way. What bondage!

      I’m grateful too that all I have to do is identify the sin and stop it, not work up a bunch of disgust for it. In fact, on the occasions when I do start in with the disgust and remorse and condemnation I realize immediately it’s my flesh trying to put me on a guilt trip, and I stop that as well, claiming the fact that Jesus paid for both of sets of sins and the idea of me helping Him out is, well… disgusting. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Christina

    Thank you for turning my comment into a whole post! Wow.

    After reading your response I was wondering how you would define “hurt” and how does this differ from “grieved” in your definition? To me to grieve is to hurt at some level, even if it is only the loss of current intimacy; never mind the ripples of pain that are now expanding and causing more pain. Yes, God can use our pain for good, but does that mean He feels nothing when my paid sin hurts His other children and keeps me from wanting to turn to Him? This to me is not connected to confession instead it is about the way God relates to Christians and how it affects Him when we sin even though that sin is already paid for. Do you believe God’s grieve and our confession can be separated?

    Thanks again! Christina

    Reply
    1. karenhancock

      Thanks for the follow up, Christina. I was thinking even yesterday that a lot of this discussion does hinge on how one defines “hurt”. And also “offended”. Off the top of my head both of them, from a human perspective, seem related to sin. “Offended” implies outrage and anger at some misdeed or treatment, and is something than can originate from arrogance — who are we to judge another and get angry about it? (Ro14:4) Hurt, to me, is more of a self-pity sort of reaction. “Oh, me, oh my, they don’t respect me, they put me down, they don’t like me, they think I’m stupid, they don’t want to spend any time with me.”

      I think, however, we can also be legitimately angry at some injustice inflicted on another or when we hear a false doctrine taught (eg, Jesus was angry at the money changers in the Temple) and it’s not sin.

      On the other hand, while we can be sad when a loved one refuses to believe in Christ, or sad when a wayward child rejects our counsel and goes off the the Far cityj, I don’t think that’s the same as “hurt”. Using that word, as I said, seems to bring in a sense of personal insult that’s not consistent with how I think of God now that Jesus has gone to the cross.

      “Offended” is a stronger word than hurt and in the Old Testament there is much about God’s wrath against sin, and against His people when they rebelled. But all that wrath was poured out on Christ. You quoted from Isaiah 53 where it says He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities… but a little further on in vs 10 it says “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering.”

      So Jesus was literally hurt — wounded, pierced, crushed — and God the Father was pleased to do that in order to save us. When you think of all that, combined with God’s omniscience, I just don’t see how He could “feel” hurt when we sin in time. And all that doesn’t even take into consideration that He’s immutable, and not subject to changeable “feelings” as we know them.

      Regarding “grieve” I think that’s the real word we probably should be defining since I don’t think the Bible ever says God is “hurt,” whereas it does say that the Holy Spirit can be grieved (Lupeo, to distress; reflexively or passively, to be sad.) So yes, to answer your question, when our sins keep us from receiving the blessings He desires to lavish upon us, He is sad or grieved.

      Finally, as to how confession relates to all this — the thing that started all these posts in the first place is that I no longer believe we, as believers in the Church age, are called upon to confess our sins, but rather to recognize what we’re doing in the way of sinning, stop it and do something else. So, instead of lashing out and hurting someone, we’re kind; instead of being bitter and hurt, we forgive… Instead of worrying about the future, we believe God’s promises. If you haven’t read any of those, they start with Prelude: Tilling the Soil

      Good grief, it seems I almost wrote enough to make another post! Anyway, I hope this clarifies a bit. Thanks for your comments and questions.

      Reply
  5. Christina

    Thanks for the definitions! 🙂 I can see we were talking about two different kinds of hurt. Yours seems to be more how this word is used in conversation. I was thinking more of the definition “to inflict or feel pain either physical or emotional” (not including the feelings of self-pity or insult as a presupposition to how that hurt is processed, only in the pure sense of feeling pain) which would include sadness since sadness is an emotion that is unpleasant and painful to feel.

    As far as immutability is concerned, God’s character does not change. He is not a man that He should lie and take back the promises He has made or make new ones that would contradict with the former. Yet in Scripture I have not understood immutability to mean that God is so unchangeable that He never changes in any aspect. (Perhaps this is not what you meant?) I don’t believe that God is unchangeable in creativity since to be creative is to make something new, especially for God. If He were would Adam have even been made? And what about Eve? There is an element to which God is capable of doing something never done before. He can change elements of Himself and His creation. Like Christ becoming man. To our knowledge this was never done before.

    If you know of a verse or passage that says God’s emotions do not change, I would love to know about it as I have not found one. I am honestly asking because I have heard that God’s emotions do not change before and am not sure where it comes from. If the Bible, then I will gladly include it into my beliefs. However, from what I have seen in my studies, there seems to be many examples of the opposite. I know that Heb. 13:8 says that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever, but in context this passage is talking about our ability to trust that He will be faithful–an aspect of His character.

    There are verses that suggest God does change although only within the boundaries of His unchangeable character. Israel is told that if they would repent God would not bring disaster upon them (Jer. 18:7-10) since He is both just and merciful both outcomes are within His character and He can change from one to the other. In Hosea 11:8 & 9 God says that his heart is changed within Him (NIV) and He regrets the destruction He executed against them. The word “changed” in the Hebrew is hapak which means to turn and God had turned from desiring justice to desiring compassion.
    Again in Jer. 42:10 God says that He relents from the disaster that He did (ESV).

    There is also the passage in Is. 38 where God tells Isaiah to say, “The LORD says you will die” (paraphrase) to Hezekiah, but the king prays and then God tells Isaiah to tell the king that he will not die. Did God lie the first time because He was waiting for Hezekiah to pray? No. God is not manipulative or deceptive in His character. He fully intended that Hezekiah would die, but then when He saw Hezekiah’s repentance He amended His prior judgment and graciously gave the king another 15 years. He can change His emotions and actions toward man and He does as far as I have been able to research Scripture. There are many other passages I could mention where God has expressed intentions to do one thing and did not go through with those intentions because He “changed” either in His emotions or actions.

    Because of these verses it seems possible that God is capable of emotions and of feeling more than one toward man depending upon the actions of man. And if He was capable of emotional change in the OT then He is still capable of this today.

    Haha. Now I seem to have written a post. I really do appreciate you taking the time to respond to me. This has been a wonderful chance for me to get back into the Word and to discover different ways of thinking about God. I hope I have not aggravated you in any way, I just have a lot of questions and I do want to believe what the Bible says.

    Thanks! Christina

    Reply

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