Forgiving those who harm us is only one way to soften our bitterness and anger. Sometimes there are better ways. My reason for emphasizing this is that sometimes it is important to lovingly withhold forgiveness from those who have not yet recognized their wrong. But before going into that in more detail, let me give some examples based on the Romans 12:17-21 text that I referred to in my last post.
In light of what Paul said about breaking the cycle of returning evil for evil, see if you agree that in our relationship with Christ we should be able to find a number of other factors to help us deal with our anger and bitterness.
Faith in God– Are we willing to trust God when he tells us “Vengeance is mine, I will repay”. Are we willing to let him deal with the one who has harmed us? Can we trust our Lord when he shows us that it is better to trust in him than to try to get even with, or one up on, the one who has hurt us?
Humility– Can we hear behind such counsel the gentle reminder that we ourselves are inclined to return evil for evil? Paul would not urge his readers to not return blood for blood if we ourselves were above wanting a pound of flesh from those who have hurt us. Our own fallen inclinations are reason to seek God’s mercy for ourselves.
Love– When Paul tells us to seek the good of our enemy and to overcome evil with good, he is being true to the teaching of Christ. It was Jesus who first showed us that there is nothing distinctively Christian about loving our friends. We are far more likely to reflect his presence in us when we love our enemies (Luke 6:31-36). The implications are clear. We can’t be planning how to get back at someone if, from our hearts, we are praying for them and seeking their good.
Hope– When our hope is in God, we are not just living in the anger of the moment. Instead we are being lifted up by the anticipation of one day seeing that we have brought delight to the One who died not only for us– but for our enemy.
Before looking closer at what it means to lovingly forgive, or to lovingly withhold forgiveness, can you see that offering “unconditional forgiveness” is not the only way to break the cycle of evil for evil? Can you think of any other Christian graces or virtues that would also help us deal with our anger toward the one who has not admitted wronging us?
And, please, if you have any other questions, please ask them now. I don’t want to assume that we’re on the same page? Or are you waiting to see where I’m going to land :-)?