The plumber came to mend the central heating timer today. He told me he’d been on a speed awareness course, having been caught doing a few miles per hour over the 30 limit. One thing that impacted him was the challenging point, that when humans do something that seriously hurts another, they have to live with the thought of it for the rest of their lives; it’s a punishment that never, ever goes away.
Safety awareness courses were not available in the days of Exodus 21:18-27, so God gave them these instructions. Knowing that if I injured someone in a brawl, I would have to pay dearly to compensate, or lose my eye, hand, foot or whatever, I would probably find another way to settle my differences! It would certainly be something of a restraining influence on the way I approached my neighbour. The threat of the possible outcome would evoke self-control and would be a constraint on serious injury. With laws like this in place, people were much less likely to suffer serious harm. So God showed his concern for the well-being of his people, as well as the importance of their unity as a people group.
But maybe even more than that, God knows how much we suffer internally, in our thoughts if we should hurt another person; and the physical constraints not only protect from physical injury, but also from a lifetime of mental torment for the assailant.
The consequences of sin affect the sinner in profound ways few of us guess at. God designed us to be perfect, and whilst no-one now can attain that, anything less hurts us, not just our ‘victim’. It’s not just a matter of losing your place in Heaven; life on earth can get pretty hellish when you are living with regret and guilt.
But Jesus knows this. He died to take the punishment of all our sin, including all this. When we are truly repentant, he totally forgives us. It’s often harder, though, to forgive ourselves, and so we continue to suffer as we hold on to the consequences of our wrongdoing. But full forgiveness, peace and freedom is what he died to give us. We need to take hold of that. Otherwise, when we offer ourselves up to him, we are offering him damaged goods, when he has paid in full.