As a continuation from the last blog, I think we can understand that sometimes we suffer just from the consequences of our own actions. But not all suffering is a result of our own choices. Sometimes we are the innocent bystanders from someone else’s actions. We don’t live in a bubble. Our actions and choices affect the world around us, both good and bad. So there are times when bad things happen to other people as a result of our sin, and therefore, there are times when we suffer as a result of someone else’s sin.
Consider again the decision made by Adam and Eve. They made the choice to disobey God when they made the choice to eat of the forbidden fruit. The consequences of their actions didn’t affect only themselves. Yes, they were banished from the garden and were going to die, both spiritually and physically, but the curse went well beyond just the two of them. It flowed down to all humankind and ultimately all creation. The one choice they made to follow Satan instead of God meant that all men were sinful and cursed. Specifically, we would always have to toil and sweat to provide sustenance and would experience the “joys” of childbirth pains. Not only were man and woman cursed, but even the ground and animals were cursed. All of creation suffered the consequences from just two people’s actions.
Another example can be found in Joshua 7:1-26.
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down about 36 men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent…Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until evening ...Then Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all – to deliver us?...Then the LORD said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things ,and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff…Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you.”…And Achan answered Joshua, “Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and this is what I have done: When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent with the silver under it.”…Then Joshua, and all of Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had and they brought them ot the Valley of Achor…So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones.”
The Israelites had just defeated the city of Jericho and were headed over to Ai. Yet God had given a clear command in the battle for Jericho: do not take anything from that city. The victory over Jericho was great and the town of Ai appeared so weak that the Israelites sent out only a small group to battle. Instead of victory though, the Israelites had a humiliating loss. They fled in the face of their enemy and thirty-six of their men died. Joshua was actually wishing they had just stayed put on the other side of the Jordan rather than face this defeat and humiliation. But God tells him it was because ONE man disobeyed. An entire nation was suffering due to the actions of ONE man. The consequences of Achan’s theft was felt by Achan - he, his family, his possessions, and even his animals died because Achan was disobedient. But the consequences were also felt across the nation. Thirty-six families lost someone that day. The nation suffered a humiliating defeat.
So did God cause the Israelites to suffer? Was it His “will” that the nation be defeated and those thirty-six men die? His desired will was for everyone to obey His command about not taking anything from Jericho. But His permissive will allowed suffering for the consequences of one man’s sin. I always think about what the families of those soldiers who died must have been thinking. Why my child? Why my husband? We often cry out to God for “why me” and my situation. And here, the answer was the unlikeliest of reasons: because someone else in the nation of Israel disobeyed God.
Is that fair to those families who lost their loved ones? What exactly would be fair? Couldn’t God have just punished Achan without the loss of life to the Israelite soldiers to make the point that the people should obey Him? Maybe the lesson was further learned across Israel because they all suffered together. God wanted the nation as a whole to submit to His Lordship. And the nation as a whole would rise or fall based on the decisions of individuals. Achan’s decision to disobey God had consequences not just for him, but for his family, his possessions, and the nation of Israel. Our actions and decisions create consequences not to just ourselves but to those around us, and sometimes, even to the entire nation.