Oscar Ramirez: Unintended consequences
Let’s face it — we all have that one thing that we regret. We’ve played that fantasy game thinking that we can escape the consequences of our choices. Film makers make money exploiting unintended consequences in drama and comedies but in real life, broken plans, DWIs, bankruptcies, divorce or perhaps even prison are just a few examples of choices that end badly, bringing unintended consequences. They make us say “Boy! What was I thinking?”
Because we are not able to see into the future, we are blind to the unintended consequences of our decisions. Picture dropping a pebble in a pond: every choice causes concentric rings, a chain of events that extends out in all directions; In fact, all relationships and even society itself, can be viewed as intersections (sometimes collisions), of individual unintended consequences.
The Bible records stories of humans making choices with catastrophic, long range, unintended outcomes. For me, one account stands out. Almost everyone knows the story of David and Bathsheba, but few know about how and where it started or what the unintended consequences were.
In 2 Samuel 6:13-15, King David is leading a procession returning the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. He was ecstatically whirling and dancing before the Lord: leaping, shouting with acclamations of joy and with the sound of the trumpet, offering sacrifices, with almost reckless abandon. After setting the Ark in its intended place, he led the congregation in worship wearing some of the vestments (ephod) of the High Priest.
As this procession came into the City, King David’s first wife Michal observed the wild exuberance of her husband’s worship from her window. 2 Samuel 6:16, records “She despised him, (looked on him with scorn and distain), in her heart.” You might ask, who would possibly be offended by unrestrained joy in worship of God? Believe me when I tell you that most of our churches today have people who would react with a similar wet-blanket response to exuberant worship.
David returned to his house to continue the celebratory mood intending to bless his household. Michal came out to meet David, starting a domestic dispute with a sarcastic confrontation, and escalating the situation with untrue charges of public nakedness and vulgar behavior (2 Sam 6:20).
Was King David’s behavior spontaneous, or planned (he was wearing the vestments of the High Priest)? Was he correct in assuming the position of a worship leader? Should he, as King have been more circumspect in his behavior?
What was she thinking? Was she really rebuking the King of Israel? She evidently thought he, as King, had degraded himself before the congregation, but why did she escalate the situation with false charges of lewd and immodest public behavior? She might have thought he was trying to entice other women with his dance. Did she not think of the consequences of her assumptions, of her words or of her tone?
David’s ecstatic worship turned to internal rage. His reply to Michal was classic! His actions were not for her benefit, nor for any other woman in the crowd. His actions were intended as worship and directed towards his God, which was a perspective she evidently had not considered. Unintended consequences of both parties collide explosively as sparks fly out in all directions.
If he was being accused of it, now he, as King, would not only do it, but do even worse! How many of us, when falsely accused, feel that if we were being falsely charged with a deed, we might as well go ahead and do it.
David’s relationship with his wife was effectively ended. A huge gulf had been opened and they were now completely alienated, all intimacy was broken off. Michal ultimately died a barren woman (2 Sam 6:22-23). But where would David’s decision lead him as a virile young man?
At least a year goes by (four chapters later in the Bible), and we see King David making good on his promise to his now estranged wife Michal. Most people begin the story of David and Bathsheba here in the middle, failing to see how David had set himself up for this moral failure.
2 Samuel 11:1 tells us that David was not out in the battlefield leading his men where he was supposed to be. This is a critical clue. When a leader chooses a clandestine interlude over being in his position of leadership, a major miscalculation has occurred. “David tarried still at Jerusalem,” but this “tarrying” was not just getting up late or not showing up for work on time. If we dig a little deeper we find a startling truth. The Hebrew word for “tarried” here is yashab‘, which has in part, the meaning of “to sit down in ambush, in quiet.” This same word is used in Psalms 10:8 were we get a glimpse of the mind-set of the leader of Israel: “He sits [yashab] in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places does he murder the innocent: his eyes are privately set against the poor. He lies in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lies in wait to catch the poor.”
Contrary to popular belief, David was not just experiencing the weariness of war, PTSD, insomnia or anything else as he took a little stroll on his rooftop when he should have been out in the field leading his army. He knew his generals, specially the one who lived in the shadow of his palace. He knew their families, particularly Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of his best warrior Uriah. Most likely, he also knew her personal habits and patterns, living within direct line-of-sight into their home from the top of his palace.
You cannot call this “unintended.” It was definitely premeditated. David, being estranged from his wife Michel for over a year, becomes a peeping Tom, adulterer and rapist. He conspires to cover up his sin by making ever increasingly bad decisions, expanding the number of people that are affected by unintended consequences. Ultimately he conspires a plot in a last-ditch effort to cover up acting out his fleshly desires. He ends up marrying Bathsheba, the wife of the man he had murdered, compounding his deeds by polygamy.
In the next scene of this drama God sends Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1) to King David and presents him with a stark contrast between two individuals; one who is very rich and one very poor. Nathan’s approach is ingenious. He places David in the position of judge over his own sin without David even realizing it. At hearing of the injustice depicted in Nathan’s story, King David is outraged and decrees that the guilty party in the story should be immediately brought to justice, require fourfold restitution, and be put to death (2 Sam 12:5). In effect, David demands that this hypothetical man must fully experience the unintended consequences of his choices and actions.
2 Sam 12:7, “And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel…Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight?” referring to his consorting with Bathsheba when he should have been leading his army, his attempted cover-up, and his marriage to the woman.
Just how vast the unintended consequences are now becomes crystal clear. “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives [David eventually had 8 or more wives] in the sight of this sun,” (2 Sam 12:10-11).
What was the tipping point for God? God Himself reveals what the final straw was in very next verse: 12 “For [because] thou didst it secretly…”
“And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord.” David finds immediate forgiveness but he cannot escape the consequences. In the next few chapters, we see the fulfillment of God’s judgment on David’s household and the never-ending wars that plagued his kingdom because of the unintended consequences of his decisions and his choices.
In summary, what started with a joyful leading in the worship of God, then led to a disagreement with his first wife, later led to him being in a place he was not supposed to be; a secret, clandestine meeting with Bathsheba, all forms of lies, deception, cover-up, conspiracy to commit murder, and ultimately murder and a marriage to another woman. All while still being married to his first wife Michel. The unintended consequences were David’s public and perpetual disgrace, and conflict for the rest of his life.
10 LAWS OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
When we talk about “laws” of unintended consequences, what are these laws? There are probably more, but this is what I have discovered in my own journey so far.
1. Consequences (good or bad) are inescapable: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh hall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Sprit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).
2. Consequences of secrecy will be public disclosure: “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops,” (Luke 12:2-3).
3. Unintended consequences can result in spiritual anorexia and atrophy of the soul: “And He gave them their request; BUT (emphasis added) sent leanness into their soul,” (Ps 106:15). I frequently pray that God save me from the things I ask for that may prove detrimental to me in the long run.
4. Consequences can be proportional: Plant sparingly and reap sparingly. Plant generously and reap generously, (2 Cor. 9:6).
5. Consequences can also be exponentially good or bad: Sow the wind, reap the tornado, (Hosea 8:7). “And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred,” (Mk 4:8).
6. The consequence of lying and cover-up (especially to God) can be immediate and deadly. Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church and to God and the unintended consequences were immediate. They died within minutes of each other, (Acts 5:3-11).
7. Older people have fewer unintended consequences than younger people: With age comes experience. The observance of the unintended consequences in their own lives and in the lives of others brings wisdom and discernment, (Job 12:12).
8. Consequences can be eternal: “And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life,” (Mt 19:29).
9. The only person who does not experience unintended consequences is God. God knows all things actual and all things possible so there is nothing unintentional or unintended with God. God offers choices with clearly known consequences, both good and bad, (Deut 27:15 through 28:68).
10. There is one consequence for which God has provided an escape: the spiritual consequences of your own sins is death, (Rom 6:23), or separation from God. God is willing to take the spiritual consequences of your sin upon Himself but only if you ask Him to (John 3:16-18).
Have you considered what might be your greatest unintended consequence? Are you a high-stakes gambler, thinking you can escape the consequences of your choices when your soul is at stake? Consider the eternal consequences of your sins, especially those done in secret. God knows your every thought and sees your every action. You can’t hide from Him or lie to him. Forgiveness can be immediate because Jesus has suffered and paid the spiritual consequences of your sin, (2 Cor 5:21). Apologize to God privately and ask for His forgiveness. Apologize boldly and openly to those you’ve offended and dragged into your drama.
The default position of a failure-to-decide is a decision. This could leave you experiencing and regretting your greatest unintended consequence. Don’t wake up from your fantasy in hell saying, “Boy! What was I thinking?”
Dr. Oscar Ramirez is the Director of Counseling at Capstone Recovery Center, 418 W. Innes St.