Monday, June 02, 2008

The Right Thing & The Best Thing

Some parents came to me this past weekend with a fairly common question common to a lot of parents: their high school daughter had done some things to some sinful things against some other g irls when she was in junior high school. Since then, she had matured and repented of her sin, gone to the other g irls and asked for forgiveness. In return the other g irls had said that they forgave her, but they couldn’t be her friend. By itself there' s nothing really wrong with this answer, but in addition, from then on, the g irls been consistently rude and mean spirited towards her ever since. This rude treatment of their daughter was causing the understandable stress in her life and she wanted to change schools and churches (the g irls all go to the same church). The parents wanted to know what I thought they ought to do for their daughter.

Here is my 2 cents: First, it sounds like the daughter, we’ll call her Susie, did the right thing when she realized her sin toward her friends. She should have gone to them, confessed her sin, and humbly asked for their forgiveness. Second, if her perception of what has taken place since then is correct, she is right to feel like she has been sinned against by the other s in their treatment of her. Third, Susie has every right to do everything she can to get away from these s, if they are treating her badly. She is free to do what she wants in this regard. Romans 12:18 says that “if possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” So, I would say that as a minimum, or in terms of the least possible to do, leaving the school and the church is a permissible choice.

However, there is a deeper, more godly way to proceed; a way that instead of allowing things to remain the same, will work to build up the kingdom of God. When others hurt our feelings and hearts they are doing us a very grievous disservice, but leaving doesn’t change anything. Instead it leaves the possibility for a root of bitterness to take hold and grow into something that destroy Susie’s personality and life in the future. Leaving will train her to hide and run away whenever things get tough and this isn’t a good thing in many situations (marriage for instance).

I believe there are at least two things that Susie ought to do try to make this terrible situation right: First, she needs to make sure that she has forgiven these other s. She needs to do what she wanted them to do for her. Forgiveness means, among other things, to not hold the offense against them and to not remember the offense at all. Someone will say that forgiveness cannot be given or extended unless the one sinning asks for it. Officially that is true. Susie must let the offense go, however, or it will eat her alive. She will always remember the offenses and they will grow in her mind like the last fish I caught grows in my memory. And if the memory brings back the pain and anger it will also bring bitterness and this is a grievous sin that Susie is not committing. The only antidote is for Susie to let it go; forget it; don’t remember it; don’t keep bringing it up in her mind; when it pops in, chase it away and pelt it with big rocks. Susie needs to remember that in same way we want God to forgive us, we need to forgive those who have sinned against us. And God in Christ has forgiven us for far more than whatever those mean s did to Susie. She can afford to stop blaming them and acting like she is a victim. In fact, since she wants to be a godly , she cannot afford not to forgive them.

The second thing Susie needs to do in this situation is to take the next step after forgiveness and that is to actively love those s. In Romans 12 it says:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:14-21

Once Susie has let the way those s acted toward her go and has given the whole situation over to God to take care of, she needs to turn her attention to loving those s. The text says to bless those who persecute you. Did those s persecute Susie? Yes they did. Are they still doing it? Presumably. Will they continue if Susie does something loving on their behalf? Probably. Should she stop looking for ways to love them and bless them? Not at all. The text says that God will take care of those who do evil toward Susie. She just needs to keep loving them and trusting that God will vindicate her love some day. He loves her and he loves those other s. Susie cannot be overcome by evil; instead she needs to overcome evil by pouring herself into loving those s.

Here are some suggestions for ways that Susie can be loving toward those s and so heap burning coals on their heads. She can go out of her way to say hello and good morning to them, with a chipper smile and cheerful countenance. She can do things for them when she sees that they need some help; she can hold their books while they put on their coats, hold doors for them, give them kind comments on things they obviously care about (their new hairdo, dress, etc.). She can invite them to parties, invite them over for study sessions, she can be nice to other s in the class that are also being snubbed by these s, and she can be winsome and cheerful in spite of the way she has been treated.

Susie needs to know that forgiving these s is not an option. If she does not forgive them, neither will her Father in Heaven forgive her her sins (Mt. 6:15). Continued hurt feelings, anger, the desire for vengeance, and bitterness are the reasons why people refuse to forgive. These are all sins and manifestations of Susie’s own rebellion against God. They must not be allowed to continue, whatever else happens.

Susie has the right to leave the school and even the church, it would not be sin, but the godly approach, the one Jesus ed for us would be to stay in both the school and the church and love those s who treated her so shamefully. She will stay and pour it on and do it because of the fear of God and love for her Savior who stayed and loved her even though she was his enemy.

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