Natural Consequences

Awhile back we let our older son get a couple of pet fish. You all know how this story goes. “I’ll feed them every day, twice a day, I promise.” Well, of that hasn’t really happened. And my wife has taken quite a shine to these two fish, she’s gotten pretty attached. She told me that she loves them more than our cats, who we’ve had for over ten years. She read somewhere that fish like to snack on peas, if they’re soft enough, so she boiled a single pea for them. Brought it upstairs on a plate and everything. So of course, twice a day, she reminds our son to feed the fish or she does it herself if he says he’s too busy.

Now, as a parent, I’ve always been an advocate for natural consequences, as opposed to arbitrary punishments. I think that’s what God does for us; let’s us deal with the fallout of our mistakes, and learn from them, rather than punishing sinners with eternal torment.

But in this case, the natural consequence of not feeding the fish is to let them starve and die. Which, I would argue, is bit harsh for a seven year old, to say nothing of the poor fish. It’s a punishment that crosses the line. A more appropriate measure, perhaps, is to take the fish away if he forgets to feed them a certain number of times. And that’s what I’m going to do, as soon as I work up the nerve.

Consequences are often necessary; but they should be instructive, not strictly punitive. It should be about teaching someone the error of their ways, rather than satisfying our anger or righting some karmic imbalance. Christ, as always, provides the right model here. He wasn’t a judge, jury, or executioner; he was a teacher. He frequently called out injustice, sin, and all around wrongdoing; but he didn’t go around whacking sinners with a stick. He talked with them. Tried to help them understand, tried to help them be better people. So if you’re angry with your spouse, don’t punish them with silence; they can’t learn anything from that. If you’re frustrated with your kids, don’t scream at them or slap them; it only teaches them to do the same. And if someone breaks the law, they should get a punishment that fits the crime; rehabilitation, in many cases, is more instructive than incarceration. And sometimes a warning is better than a speeding ticket, as the case may be, for those folks who may have, you know, hypothetically, been driving 19 miles over the speed limit. Hypothetically.

Rev. Seth Ethan Carey



4 Comment(s)
  • Bob Stout Posted October 3, 2017 6:12 pm

    I can’t think you enough for reaching out to us as our pastor, offering the clarity of thoughtful reflection that has helped me for one, to sort through the chaos of this most horrible event. Your observation about the distance between the shooter and the target graphically and accurately assessed the nature of the shooting as being far less mpersonal than other mass shootings. His victims must have appeared as ants or perhaps even less than ants, just shooting targets.. I fear for the future and “copy-cat” efforts. And yes, we do need to come closer and recapture a sense of empathy and compassion, two qualities that have been eroded away by the force of the waves of social media, distant and impersonal/instant one-way communication with significant delay in response if not even no response at all. SAD!

  • Diane Adams Posted October 4, 2017 6:16 am

    Pastor Seth,

    Thank you so much for your words of comfort at this sad, frightening time. Your words, both spoken and written, have touched me many times in the past. I, too, am thankful for my church family, where we can be uplifted and comforted.


  • Siobhan Wagner Posted October 4, 2017 11:59 am

    Pastor Seth ~

    This is such a sad time in all of our lives. There are people out there that hugged and kissed a loved one for the last time on Sunday evening, not knowing it was the last time. We should love everyone like it’s our last day here on earth. Unfortunately we don’t do that on a daily basis. We get too caught up in life until someone evil shows their “face” to the world and we again hug and kiss our loved ones. I have always wondered is there evil in the world or is it mental illness?

    How do we know if someone is truly evil or mentally ill. This is one of the things that scares me the most. Everyone automatically thinks, Oh, he was mentally ill, but was he? This is the one thing that I question in life, is evil among us. It truly scares me to think there is evil but we see it in the news everyday not just Sunday evening.

    Like you said, it’s like a window to hell opened and it is staying open……but why? Are we being tested by one side and pushed by the other?

  • Leland Livingston Posted January 27, 2018 8:49 am

    I like that view of the glass–thank you.

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