So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and 70,000 people died as a result.
(1 Chronicles 21:14)
Our society places great emphasis upon individual responsibility. To imagine 70,000 people dying for one person’s sin seems unfair to us. However, God bound us together interdependently. In ancient times, people understood this and expected to share in the successes of their leaders as well as in their failures and punishments. Whether it is fair or not, the group usually suffers because of the sins of its leaders. Similarly, our actions always affect other people, whether we want them to or not.
Sin has a domino effect. Once a sin is committed, consequences follow. God will forgive our sin when we ask, but the consequences have already been set in motion. Only by God’s grace are the effects of sin thwarted. And God’s grace did interrupt sin’s fallout. David pleaded for mercy, and God responded by stopping the angel before his mission of death was complete. The consequences of David’s sin, however, had already caused severe damage.
God will always forgive our sins, when we confess them, and he will often intervene to make their bitter consequences less severe, but scars will often remain. Those scars remind us of the power of sin. But they heal, and that should remind us to thank God for his grace.