Are you nearsighted or farsighted? Yes, that is a metaphorical question. But we as humans tend to have regular experiences of perspective loss. We do this in moments of anger, of anxiety, of stress. We do this when we suffer, when we’re tired, when we’re overwhelmed. And sometimes we do this when we assess our sin. Some of us tend to be nearsighted and see our sin only in light of its immediate consequences. Others of us look at our sin and immediately see how seven years down the road it will lead to an affair or an abusive household or an ice-cold relationship or financial ruin or…fill in the blank.
In nearsightedness, we underestimate sin. We forget how it can control us. We forget that it is always lying in wait for us and that it wants to have its way with us.
In farsightedness, we already feel the weight of our sin or the sin of another as it could be. And we respond accordingly. The intensity of our feelings and actions is disproportionate to the sin as it actually is.
Both of these perspectives and their associated responses have problems, and these problems are compounded when two people imbalance each other out. For instance, I tend to be rather nearsighted about my sin, while my wife tends to be more farsighted about it. When unchecked by wisdom, she and I can be at odds about things. I naturally don’t take sin as seriously as I ought, and she naturally takes it too seriously. When these extreme perspectives collide, you’re asking for inordinate suspicion on her part and unhelpful defensiveness on mine. My lack of perspective feeds into her fears, and in response to her fears, I redouble my efforts to convince her that things are not as bad as she says. You can see where this leads. At first glance, you might’ve thought we’d balance each other out, but in reality, two imbalances don’t always make a balance. Two sick people don’t make a healthy person, and two sinners certainly don’t make a saint. And it would undoubtedly be no better for a relationship in which both partners take the same extreme perspective of underplaying or overplaying the severity of sin. All of it is destructive. None of it is sober-mindedness.
So, how do we untie the knot, break the cycle, become constructive? It may seem counterintuitive, but the first answer to this problem is not to look for how we can find better balance in our perspectives on sin. It’s not to ask, “How do I need to consider more seriously the potential consequences of unchecked sin patterns? And how do I need to remind my wife that we are here, and not there, in the present, not five years down the road?” These things are helpful, but they aren’t the starting point. The starting point is to see the most important part of our sin is not how severe its consequences are. The most important part is what God has done about it in Christ, what God is doing about and with it now, and what God is going to do about it and with it in the life of all those involved, both the guilty party and the affected parties.
In short, if you want God’s perspective on your sin, don’t focus on consequences; focus on redemption. Consider them, yes. Feel the weight of them and experience godly sorrow. But consider this also: God’s redemptive plan includes both our sin and its consequences. When David sinned with Bathsheba, the consequences were horrifying. An act of adultery and murder led to acts of rape, murder, and war. A kingdom was divided. A father lost children. God’s name was brought into disrepute. When you look at your sin and ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” you’re playing a fool’s game. It can always be worse than you imagine. But consequences weren’t all that came from David’s sin. Five chapters earlier, God promised David a son to carry on his lineage and establish a permanent throne. The son born from David’s adultery was the fulfillment of that promise. It was through Bathsheba, the wife David should never have had, that God gave us Solomon. And it is through Solomon, the son David should never have had, that God gave us the lineage that produced Christ, the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. God used David’s sin and its consequences to fulfill His promise of blessing to David, to bring us Christ, and thereby to bring us salvation. When God looked at David’s sin, He didn’t see only the consequences; He saw our hope – Christ.
The contrast between these two ways of interpreting sin makes our hope in Christ clear. A consequence-oriented assessment of sin leads to either worry and fear and various degrees of despair or excuse-making and negligence – it just depends on how far down the line you look and how extreme your perspective. But a redemption-oriented assessment of sin breeds hope. When you look at sin (yours or another’s), be neither nearsighted nor farsighted, but Christ-sighted. See with new eyes – the eyes of redemption. Mourn, but not as those who have no hope. Grieve, but do not despair. Your God is for you and is using even the worst parts about you to bring Himself glory and to bring you and His people good.
This way of looking at sin through the lens of the gospel is a bit like the opposite of legalism. Legalism is “the gospel, plus.” You must believe on Jesus, plus you must be baptized, plus you must not listen to secular music, plus you must you must attend church at least twice a week, plus, plus, plus. Redemption, on the other hand, is like “forgiveness, plus.” You have been forgiven, plus God is going to bring Himself glory through your weakness. You have been forgiven, plus God is going to use the trial you inflicted on that person to make him or her more like Christ. You have been forgiven, plus you will not face consequences alone, plus God is going to be kind to you forever because Jesus earned that for you, because He wants to do it for you even though you’ve sinned, because He loves you. We need the perspective of redemption – of “forgiveness plus” – when we look at sin, both ours and others’.