“Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:28
Last week I wrote about the very real possibility that the people who have hurt you may be the ones through whom God brings healing. As Joseph was reconciled to his brothers, I have seen fractured relationships restored. Husband/wife, parent/child, friend/friend, etc. God has a remarkable way of bringing people around, working His grace into their lives, “softening” them, so that they come to a point where they ask for forgiveness or offer it where previously it was withheld.
Whenever I have written about this topic I receive multiple responses from people who are burdened in their lives with close relations who have hurt them and show no sign whatsoever of any interest in apology, a request for forgiveness, and certainly not reconciliation. Let me stress that these questions arise from conscientious Christians who (1) would do anything to facilitate reconciliation or (2) are uncertain of their ongoing responsibility in the face of continual spite or indifference from the person who originally hurt them.
Simply put, what do we do when the hurt keeps hurting? And especially when the source is from someone who should have been a blessing?
First, forgive, pronounce a blessing, and move on. This threefold piece of advice does reflect most of what I find in the NT concerning this challenge. The verse for this week’s GraceWaves are words from Jesus Himself, and are repeated in so many forms throughout the NT that everyone of us knows that forgiveness is a non-negotiable Christian responsibility. If you are trying to retain hard feelings, and construct a case for withholding forgiveness, then frankly you have doomed yourself to a wrestling match with God you eventually will lose.
Forgiveness is not sometimes hard, it is always hard. Forgiveness is costly, particularly when the object of your forgiveness demonstrates no inclination to wanting it. I would not for a moment suggest that all forgiveness is of the same level of challenge. Some hurts are very deep, even unspeakably evil. Coming to a point of offering forgiveness for some acts takes a very long time, and if you are struggling to forgive you must not compound the problem with unnecessary guilt and self-recrimination. Make it a matter of prayer, and trust that God in His time, and in cooperation with your spirit, will enable you to offer genuine forgiveness.
Pronouncing a blessing, even on those who curse you, is also a familiar NT teaching. Jesus knew this step also would be hard, and that is why He reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that God makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust (Matt. 5:45). We bless not as a function of the other person’s goodness, but simply because we all need blessing and none of us have earned it. To pronounce a blessing on difficult and even hostile people in some way acknowledges that you do not know what has made that person so difficult or hostile. You are not waiting for them to change or setting preconditions. You simply bless because this act is very God-like.
Now, to move on is where some fine Christians struggle mightily. They may wonder if moving on amounts to giving up on a person, which, of course, Jesus never did. But let’s look at Jesus a little more closely. He did not chase after the Pharisees trying to “patch things up.” Neither in the parable did the father chase after the prodigal son trying to talk him into returning. Yes, Jesus died on a cross for all these hard and evil people, but God did not give you either the ability or responsibility to give your life for someone who is uninterested in the grace you offer. If you struggle here you may need to face the reality that you are expecting a blessing from someone who is simply unable or unwilling to give it, and that is not your fault. You may also need to prayerfully consider why you maintain such a fundamentally unhealthy (for you!) expectation. Move on.
The second guidance I offer you from the scripture is to remember “you have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you” (Gal. 2:20). Frankly, Paul’s words here are beyond me, but they bring us to a realm so profoundly mysterious and infinitely important that we must make some effort to understand them.
The union of you with Christ is a thrilling teaching in the NT and has a special application in forgiving those who have intensely hurt you. Christ knows better than anyone what it is like to love those who do not return love. He knows the depth of rejection in ways you never can. Now I am not suggesting “you haven’t had it nearly so bad as Jesus, so get over it.” Not at all. I am simply pointing out the fact that your union with Christ enables and compels you to “share in His sufferings” (Rom. 8:17, Phil. 3:10).
God has a way, through the presence of Christ in you, of helping you endure a continual hurt. You certainly cannot change other people to make them more receptive to your offer of grace, but you can pray for God to continue His work in you to make you more receptive to His offer of grace. I believe this spiritual discipline is a key to your moving on. When you have trouble with hurtful people, remember the cross. I am sure that is at least part of what Paul meant.
People who should have blessed you often hurt you. In fact, the closer someone is to you, the deeper the cuts. But the story of grace is still being written, both in your life and the lives of all of us. Let the Author do His work. Continually hand to Him your thorniest problems, especially when the hurt keeps hurting.
Dr. Terry Ellis
July 17, 2011