“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” – Psalm 51:2-3
In February of 1998, the case of Karla Faye Tucker came to a close as she became the first woman executed since the Civil War. Tucker was convicted of killing two people with a pickaxe. What made the execution even more unusual was that there were thousands of people asking that her sentence be reduced to life in prison. That group included Pope John Paul and Pat Robertson (normally a proponent of the death penalty). This compassion was not because of her sex, but because while she was in prison, she became a devout born-again Christian. This case begs an interesting question. Why do we suffer the punishment for our sins even after God has forgiven us? Did He forgive her or not?
Yes, of course God forgave Karla Faye, just as He forgives anyone who genuinely repents. Jesus died for our sins, but understand that the sacrifice was to get us right with God, not to protect us from earthy consequences. The thief must still face prison, the child will be disciplined by his parents, and the adulterer still faces the risk of losing everything.
Look at the story of David. After being guilty of adultery, abuse of power, murder and coverup, the guilt of his sin clung to him everywhere he went. Then, he confessed his sin to God before a priest and he was instantly forgiven by God. Now, some of you are saying, “Well, that’s completely unfair.” Are you paying attention? While God instantly forgave David, he did not remove the negative consequences of his sins. For the rest of his life, he found the consequences of his sins through a disillusioned family.
With repentance and confession, God forgives instantly. But He doesn’t remove the consequences of our sin. We have to live with those consequences.