There is a lot of hurt and pain in the world. In my opinion, Christianity should be a place of healing, wholeness, and forgiveness for that hurt and pain. Unfortunately this is often not the case. I can’t even count the number of people I have encountered in the last twenty years who had deep wounds caused by those who wear the name “Christian.” Lately I have been thinking about this and pondering what message might be helpful to my fellow Christians who have experienced pain at the hands of their brothers or sisters in the Church or the organization of the Church. I am not sure I have any easy answers or the perfect answer but read on if you want my perspective.
People are people no matter what title they hold. I believe that it is fundamentally difficult for us to recognize this truth, especially when the “people” in question are those in positions of authority. Personally I have been extra hurt when those who have been unjust toward me have been people who should be doing the exact opposite. This includes some who have been in authority positions or who are supposed to be “mature” Christians who know better. If this fits your experience, I deeply empathize with you and in no way think that just knowing that all people are prone to failures will fix everything.
With that being said, I have stopped being surprised when those in authority positions fail those they are suppose to be serving. When I examine my own life and ministry, I am guilty of it too. Sometimes I am not in the right state of mind to deal with a difficult situation, or a difficult personality, and have caused more harm than I did good. Other times I have failed just because I was incapable of dealing with the situation before me. I have never intentionally done harm to others but when I examine myself, my weaknesses and sins impact other people. This alone should give me reason to be graceful toward those who negatively impact me.“Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18: 32-35
I need to follow that up with saying that this in no way is meant to excuse bad behavior of Christians or authority figures. When people act badly it is the biblical example that they should be confronted in an appropriate way and if not repentant, there should be real consequences. When we make mistakes, forgiveness is possible but repentance and willingness to face consequences or make restitution is always required on the offending party’s side.
The cross applies to those who offend us. I intend to write another blog soon toward those who do not consider themselves Christian but who have been hurt. I have no way of knowing who may be reading this now so it is possible you are are reading this as a non Christian. If that is the case, this point will probably make less rational sense to you. In Christian belief we believe that the injustice of all sin was dealt with on the cross. Jesus’ obedience to God was a giant “yes” to God for all our resounding cries of “no!” Jesus takes the consequences of our rebellion and rejection of God and deals with it in himself as he is put to death unjustly by our own imperfect justice system. Some time ago I was convicted while I harbored feelings of anger and bitterness toward those I believed had wronged me. I realized I was actually judging Jesus’ work on the cross as insufficient. I was demanding something extra to be done in order to make things right but if I believe that Jesus’ work on the cross applies to my erring brother or sister in Christ, then I must forgive them as I have been forgiven.
My role in recognizing someone else’s wrongdoing is to trust them to the hands of their Lord. I should pray that God would convict their hearts and show them how to seek wholeness for all involved. I should also be willing to confront the person who did wrong toward me so that they can see how their behavior hurt me. This is a difficult thing and I have often shirked this responsibility in fear of further harm, so I do not blame anyone who has a hard time following through in this way. If you feel this is too difficult a task, then trust the whole situation to God in prayer and place proper boundaries in your own life to protect against future abuse.
The failure of people does not equal the failure of God. No one has ever solved the mystery of how sin works into God’s plan and his character of goodness, but we are called to trust that God is good. When those who hold authority or the name of Christian fail us, it can feel a lot like God has failed us. We must choose to realize this is not the case. The failure of humans in our life is not the equivalent of the failure of God. Examine Jesus as an example of this. The whole of humanity failed him; his closest friends abandoned him, the crowds turned on him, the religious authorities plotted against him, and the secular authorities crucified him. Even in the midst of all this Jesus said from the cross,
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
The example of Jesus is that we recognize the sin and failure of humanity is not attributed to God as his fault. Instead, God is petitioned for forgiveness, even toward those who are against God’s will. This is consistent with Jesus’ teachings throughout the gospel accounts. He tells his followers to forgive one another, pray for their enemies, and love one another as he has loved us.
Consider the perspective of the other person. Many times I have come to the realization that hurt on my part does not equal wrong done on someone else’s part. Sometimes I am just overly sensitive in an area and it just so happens someone else has stomped into that sensitive area without realizing it. If I am self reflective and following the example of Jesus, to:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”
I can recognize when my offense is not accurate to reality. In order to do this, I have to consider that the offending party might not have intended their comments as I received them. The result of this kind of reflection may be a conversation with the person who offended me to let them know my feelings and make sure they know I don’t think they intended to hurt me. They may realize that they should be more careful in the future and choose different words or actions in order to consider your feelings above their own.
Everything I have outlined here takes real work. None of these comes naturally to me and so I think they are difficult for most of us. We will fail in these areas often but thank God for his grace toward us and his Spirit who will give us ability beyond which we are capable. I hope that these thoughts might help to re-frame some of the times we have felt hurt by others who wear the name Christian or by the Church. Did I miss something? Do you have a different perspective? Chime in below in the comments and I’ll do my best to engage with you to have a fruitful conversation.