It’s 6 years on from my original injuries, and after a time of stable recovery, the tendon shortening that occurs as a late effect of compartment syndrome recurred in my worst affected foot. My mobility has probably halved over the last year, and 2 months ago I was barely able to get out without a wheelchair. I had surgery almost 2 weeks ago, which was relatively minor, but as it approached and during these days afterwards it’s been a real time of reflection on where I’ve come from and what God has taught me.
It’s a very vivid picture of the way that the consequences of sin echo down the years. Those consequences might be indirect and, at the time, unpredictable. Unlike some Christian writers, I don’t believe addiction is a sin in itself, any more than anorexia or personality disorders are. But whilst it is active it leads to many sinful decisions – to lying, first of all, to protect itself at all costs, including work, relationships and self respect. Beyond that there are a whole host of other sins that vary from person to person: sexual sin; risking or causing harm to others including children, family, or strangers in the wider community if you get behind the wheel; ultimately this idolises the self and the object of addiction, creating a false God. The risks I was taking with my health ultimately led to the night in which my somewhat unusual and dramatic injuries occurred.
I don’t know, and am not going to write at any length here, about the consequences on my daughter. That’s not because I don’t acknowledge my guilt and culpability. I do – she has suffered and may be left with lifelong consequences, and for that she may never forgive me. But those consequences are unknown to me, and they are her story, to share or not, in time.
Whilst God does, absolutely and completely, wipe the slate clean when we confess our sins, being forgiven is only the first part. We are at that moment set free from the way that the devil, like creeping plants, wraps his tendrils around us of guilt, shame, unworthiness, and draws us into doing it, whatever it is, again, and worse. When we honestly confess the Holy Spirit frees us, body, mind, and soul.
There are still consequences. There are people who have been hurt, relationships broken, money or possessions lost and owed.
It seems that I’ll never walk normally or be free from pain. I can neither run due to the muscle that was stripped away to save my life, or stand in the dark due to the nerve damage to my feet. It would be easy to think this is God’s punishment – but it’s not – it’s the consequence of my injuries. This is not an act of a vengeful God but the natural consequence of such a surgical emergency.
The act of God – is that I am in Christ forgiven and made new. That means I don’t take on the guilt and shame that the devil offers – either in my normal days with my physical struggles, or especially now when the unforeseen consequences are an ever-present reminder.
Sin echoes – it reminds us that there is a great cost to sin, spiritually, emotionally and sometimes physically. At times while that cost is painfully clear to all, and cannot be hidden, it is important to firstly hold close a strong personal theology of forgiveness. Embedding this in my heart keeps me from being stuck in the past, continually confessing the same sin, driven by shame from the devil, who says the cost is about unforgiven sin. It’s not. The consequences make clear to us, deep inside, where cerebral theology becomes soul-deep faith, the seriousness of the problem of sin, of our need for a Saviour. Secondly, our response is to live with cheerful acceptance. There are problems in many of our lives brought about by pride, a lack of trust in God, or the love of money – mine happens to have been dark years of alcoholism. The echoes are of that dark time – but I would not for a minute swap the freedom I now live in for the legs I had then. The echoes remind me above all to be thankful – as the great John Newton said,
I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.