I’m currently drowning in a sea – one that I did not want to be swimming in let alone drown in. I didn’t want to have the billows overwhelm me. I didn’t want to be gasping and choking for breath. But I am here, and I know enough to know that these billows are sovereignly appointed ones, meant for my refinement, strengthening, and cleansing.
The sea I’m taking great gulps from as I struggle to keep breath in my lungs and my head above the surface is the fallout of sin. It’s called the Sea of Painful Consequences. Aftermath. Carnage. And while I’ve made plenty of my own cesspools of filthy, disgusting, wretched piles of careless, willfully arrogant, loathsome sin, this sea isn’t my doing. It was done to me. I can’t fix it. I can’t repent of it and ask Jesus to clean it up. I can’t make amends for it or beg someone else to forgive it. I am victim to it. And yes, I still see it as sovereignly appointed for my ultimate good.
But I must admit that I have struggled – really struggled – with watching how the ripple effects of this mess have affected so many more people than just me. My children, their friends, my pastor and elders and their families, my community group – my whole church has been affected. Friends, family, co-workers – it seems there isn’t anyone my family knows who hasn’t been tainted by it. And we know a lot of people.
I have been grieved to hear how young women who I have mentored are struggling with watching it happen. “If it can happen to you,” they say, “it could happen to… anyone.” I have winced as I’ve listened to precious loved ones tell of their pain and sorrow and ongoing struggles with the unanswered questions…why? How? What for? I have wept at the profoundly deep and far-reaching effects that the sin of one individual has had on so many, many people.
“Lord!” I’ve cried. “Please stop this! Please contain it! Please prevent it from continuing to spill over into cup after cup after cup! It’s one thing to have been ripped apart – I hate it, but I can bear it if that’s what you want. But does it really have to hurt them, too?”
But that is how sin is, isn’t it? It’s so much more vile and destructive than we ever want to think about, much less admit. It is, admittedly, easier to see this when it’s the result of someone else’s sin. But our sin – yes, my sin and yours – has the power to destroy life. And every life it touches is stained and soiled by its polluting mess. We mess our own lives up when we give into wickedness – but we mess a whole lot of other lives up as well.
It ripples and ripples and nothing stops its effects until it spends itself fully and wastes everything in its wake. Watching it from a front-row seat has sometimes caused me to be given over to despair.
But I’ve recently learned something about God, as he’s been teaching me about the hard, ugly reality of sin. And that is this: where sin abounds, his grace abounds all the more.
When one of my young friends was talking to me recently, shedding tears because of the pain that this sin has caused her, I was sad – so sad – that my mess has touched her, too. I cried and silently prayed, “Lord, help her. Why should this sweet young mom have to struggle like this when she has nothing whatsoever to do with what has happened?” I told her how sorry I was that this was hard for her, and wished with all my heart that she didn’t have to bear any of this burden.
But God spoke to me in the next second when she said, “But don’t you see? God is showing me things I never would have seen before through this. He’s showing me how to pray in ways I didn’t know I should pray, and he’s giving me insight into sin that I don’t think I’ve ever even thought about before. Watching you walk through this is teaching me. Your faithfulness is encouraging me.”
And I realized in that moment that this is how our good God works. This is how grace abounds even more than the sin. He takes our filthy, tangled sin messes and uses them to reveal to us that his mercy is greater. He can take those ripples of sin and make waves of grace come from them. He can use one man’s sin to reveal himself and his patient, merciful, kind, and gracious character – to many – in greater measures than the sin can ever destroy. He can teach and grow and strengthen and mature through it all in a way that overcomes it all.
And isn’t that exactly what he’s done? Sin entered creation through one man. And it has been passed on to each and every one of us, because we all sin. But God doesn’t let that be the end of the story. He changes the death-sentence-endings through grace and replaces them with life. “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Grace is bigger than sin because God is bigger than sin. Grace is more powerful than sin because God is more powerful than sin. Grace is able to breathe life into dead things – dead people – because God delights to breathe new life into cold, dead, broken hearts. Grace and mercy and provision and care is the end of the story – not overwhelming pain and sorrow and sadness. They last for a while – and they are, indeed, exceedingly painful. But they do not have the final word. God does.
In the end, love wins because God has already won.
Love wins by turning ripples of sin into waves of grace.