Have you blown it before? I mean, really fallen flat onto your sinful, selfish face? I know I have- more times than I care to remember- and I don’t think it’s a stretch to guess that you have too. Because we’ve all been there, we all know that it’s a terrible place to be. That said, there is one “silver lining” that can be found in such a situation- we can own up to our wrong, turn around, and do what we can to make it right. We may not be fully in control (because really, we never are), but we do some substantial choices that we can make.
But what about when the sinful failure isn’t yours, but someone else’s? What if, instead of the perpetrator of the cosmic crime, you are the victim, the one who bears the brunt of the wrongdoing and is left to pick up the pieces? What do you do when someone else blows it- and you have no ability to change their heart or coerce their repentance? What do you do then?
Chances are, this question has likely sparked something in you- perhaps something from your past, but more than likely something very current, very relevant, and potentially very painful. It’s no fun to be hurt. But living in this world filled with broken, busted up sinners like us, it’s going to happen. Which means we have to get our heads and hearts around the one thing we can control- our response to the wrong. When it comes to that response, we have four basic choices…
1- Don’t respond. Ignore it. Pretend it didn’t happen. Put on a happy face, or an indifferent face at least, and go on. This is often what we do, isn’t it? The thought of confrontation and the potential conflict that would accompany it scares us. So we stay silent- and likely wither bit by bit on the inside.
2- Respond in unrighteous anger. The Bible makes clear that anger isn’t always necessarily sinful; it is technically to “be angry and not sin,” according to Ephesians 4:26. The problem is, we rarely do. Usually our anger is reactive- impurely motivated and out of control. At no time is this more true than when have been wronged. Because there is a legitimate hurt that exists- and an obvious perpetrator of that hurt- we often feel justified in “letting them have it.” This is understandable- but is it right? Often, “getting even” is a lot less satisfying- and certainly less relationally productive- than it feels on the front end. It never builds up, and only tears down.
3- Respond in self-righteous judgment. This is uncontrolled anger’s more civilized- but no less sinister- cousin. If the former’s primary message is, “I can’t believe you would ________,” the latter’s message sounds more like, “I would never even think of _________.” That’s not to say that sin isn’t sinful, or that it should be downplayed or minimized in any way. It’s just that the moment we begin to think of ourselves as “above something (or someone),” we become incredibly vulnerable to a hard fall. Self-righteousness is, in a very real sense, self-deception- and it only serves to drive a wedge deeper into an already fractured relationship.
4- Acknowledge the hurt, and contribute to the healing. What do all of our first three responses have in common? They all come back, in some form or fashion, to what’s best for me, to what makes me feel better about what happened- even if what makes me feel better is pretending that nothing happened at all! But according to the Bible, the question that guides our response in difficult relational situations shouldn’t be, “What’s right for me?” but instead “What’s best for us?” This is love at it best. The problem is, love doesn’t always feel very good in the moment.
Looking toward the New Testament, we see that Paul was a man who knew what is was to be hurt, to be wronged, to be egregiously sinned against. In one such instance involving the church in the city of Corinth, he opens up about the tension and turmoil he experienced in that relationship…
For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. 2 For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? 3 And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you (2 Corinthians 2:1-4, ESV)
We don’t know with certainty all of the background behind these words, but this much is clear- Paul had been hurt by the Corinthians. His response to this hurt, though, is worth paying attention to. He doesn’t deny or sugarcoat it, speaking freely of the “affliction and anguish of heart” that he experienced in this relationship. But at the same time- in the same sentence, even!- he makes clear that in addressing his pain, it was not his intent to retaliate or to deepen the divide between them, but rather to work together toward healing and restoration.
Paul acknowledged his hurt, and then moved toward healing. Don’t miss either side of this, because one without the other is incomplete, ingenuine, and ineffective. If you only acknowledge the hurt, you remain stuck in anger or judgment. And you can’t move toward healing- at least not in any sensible way- apart from owning the fact that something happened. Both have to happen. Own the “affliction and anguish”- not in a vengeful or manipulative way, but in a way that can pave the way to figuring out what healing looks like, both in your heart and in the relationship.
I’m not sure where or how this hits you today, but this I know- You will find yourself asking this question sooner or later. Someone will blow it, and you’ll have a choice to make. My prayer is that you’ll resist the temptation to go for the self-protection of denial, or the immediate gratification of anger and judgment, and instead pursue the “long road” of honesty and hard work that is necessary to love well. After all, it’s the kind of love that’s been given you at your worst by the One who is best- God Himself.