Is your life relatively normal, or are your experiences intertwined in some way or another with a person whose behavior goes beyond what most people experience?
“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15 NIV)
Each of us is human–we are all born with the same sin-germ, and we are all capable of disappointing and hurting others. Yet some people challenge to a much higher degree our commitment to God. Whether because of a genuine mental illness, or simply because they allow themselves an excessive degree of reckless disregard for the well-being of others, there are times when God tests us through others to see whether we will, indeed, forgive the offender and respond as He would have us respond, or hold a grudge.
There are many offenses that seem difficult to forgive. Rape, incest, child molestation, the murder of a loved one, wife-beating–the list goes on and on. Even a “lesser” offense can be truly undeserved and difficult to let go of. Yet whatever it is, when it happens you know it is extraordinary–that this isn’t within the scope of what one person should do to another, and that most people aren’t treated that way. To a certain extent time stands still, perhaps to allow our systems to respond or protect us emotionally. Yet once it sinks in that we have been victimized the real issue for us as Christians begins, and we must determine how we will respond.
The best way to respond to any kind of genuine injustice or abuse is to keep foremost in mind something that might be difficult to do so at the time–that the real villain is not the perpetrator, but the sin-nature. Yes, they did something seemingly inexcusable, and yes, they may have certainly “wanted” to do it and are accountable to God for it. But if they had been reading and faithfully obeying God’s Word and allowing His Holy Spirit to work through them, they would not have done what they did. We must really hate the sin, not the sinner.
God’s Word tells us, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (II Timothy 2:24-26) Those who don’t follow God are not in possession of their full senses, they are in caught in the snare of the devil, and they have been taken captive by him to do his will.
Victims sometimes focus so much on their own sometimes seemingly hopeless plight that they don’t realize that if they are God’s servants, God has them exactly where they’re at for a reason. The sinner in their life may certainly be making them miserable, but he or she is also completely and hopelessly spiritually lost. In the absence of a work of God, they will be eternally damned. They may seem not worthy of our forgiveness, much less God’s, but we need to be careful not to fall into the Jonah trap. Remember Jonah of the Old Testament?
God told Jonah that He was about to destroy Ninevah, a very wicked city in Assyria (the nation that eventually conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.). Jonah probably couldn’t understand why on earth God wanted him to warn the Ninevites, thereby giving them a chance to stop sinning because in his mind, they were so evil that they deserved anything God would do to them. Yet rather than destroying them, God sent Jonah to issue a warning, and surprisingly, they repented.
In the same way, we are not to write anyone off as undeserving of God’s mercy. We may not have committed the particular sins our offender has, yet if we come right down to it, none of us are deserving of God’s mercy. Furthermore, if we really follow Christ (not just say we do, or do so only when convenient), we are indebted to Him to be His representatives to the lost in our lives:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:17-21)
So what is our response to be when we are sinned against? Certainly, we are to be prudent and take care to protect ourselves and the others we are responsible for, especially those unable to protect themselves. Furthermore, we are not to allow ourselves to be in denial or paralyzed by fear, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7) Ultimately, we must “…commend…[ourselves] to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build…[us] up and give…[us] an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:32) But what of our response toward the offender? How are we to respond to the person who has sinned against us?
We must forgive those who sin against us, regardless of how unforgivable their transgressions seems to be, and if we feel we simply can’t, we must ask God and He will help us do it with the strength He provides. But beyond forgiveness, we must be a bearer of Truth to them. We must allow God to use us to show His love and forgiveness to them “…and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks…[us] a reason for the hope that is in…[us] with meekness and fear; having a good conscience…” (I Peter 3:13-16)
I forgive the person who has wronged me. Use me as Your ambassador to help them “know the truth…that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil.” Amen.