I know a good Christian man who a while back did a very foolish thing. He desired a certain position in his local church. This was a position that the congregation voted on. He was certain he was going to receive a majority of the vote. But… alas, it didn’t happen. This man was hurt by this. He felt rejected. He felt betrayed. He was deeply offended. And he was furious. A short time after the vote, he had the opportunity to address his church family. And here is where the foolishness comes in. Instead of being gracious and accepting the outcome of the vote as the will of the congregation, he reacted in anger and bitterness. He rebuked the people of the church. He let it be known that they had “betrayed him.” He very strongly expressed his anger and his hurt. In short, he blasted the church!
Now in discussing this situation with friends who attend this church, I have heard one phrase repeated over and over. These people acknowledge that the man handled things foolishly (although this is my term, not theirs). But they kept saying over and over, “But he was so hurt!”
Please understand me, I empathize with this man. I have felt rejected and betrayed by God’s people. Being hurt is part of life. Indeed, it part of the Christian life. Yet, being hurt does not give us an excuse to respond in bitterness, resentment, and harsh anger. The mature Christian response to hurt is forgiveness, not wrath.
Yet, I see this kind of situation (and this kind of excuse) crop up in the church all the time. When someone is wronged or mistreated and they react in an unchristian, foolish and inappropriate way, we excuse away their sinful behavior because of the hurt they have suffered. Please know that I am not minimizing anyone’s pain. I am also not minimizing the sinful wrongs that may be done to a person. However, mistreatment does not give any Christian a license to sin. The commands of God’s word to forgive, to love (even our enemies), to be kind, and to be longsuffering apply to all Christians, in all situations.
You would think that the Bible reads differently for people in hurtful situations. Perhaps these people have a different translation that I don’t know about. Perhaps there is a Victim’s Bible. It has verses like this…
- “Now the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace—unless of course you have been hurt, then it is okay to manifest hatred, resentment and irritation” – Galatians 5:22 VBT (Victim’s Bible Translation).
- “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors—unless a person wrongs you really bad. Then it is okay carry a grudge” – Matthew 6:12 VBT.
- “Repay no one evil for evil… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Of course, this does not apply if a person repeatedly acts in an evil manner. Then it is okay to be vengeful and treat them like they have treated you” – Romans 12: 17 & 21 VBT.
Get the idea?
Now I know these pseudo-verses sound foolish. But is our disobedience any less foolish when we refuse to take God’s word seriously?
C. S. Lewis had a very insightful perspective on such matters. He wrote regarding the mitigating circumstances in situations where someone is wronged. He said that if someone is truly hurt and wounded, then we can understand their anger, their feelings of resentment, their bitter attitude. But just because we understand their behavior, it does not mean that such behavior is excused. Understanding and excusing are two completely different things.
Our compassion for the hurting causes us to empathize with their hurt. But true love demands that we not excuse anyone’s sinful behavior. And this includes us—we cannot excuse our own wrong behaviors and attitudes because we have been hurt. In fact, this is where this perspective is most important. We must not explain away the sinfulness our anger, unforgiveness and bitterness by using our hurt as an excuse.
We have to remember that there is no excuse for disobedience of God’s word. When God tells us to love, to be patient, to forgive when we are wronged, He expects us to obey. And we obey not because we feel like it. Indeed, we often obey despite how we are feeling. Yet we obey. And very often it is in the obeying when we don’t feel like that we find our heart (and feelings) changed by that very act of obedience.