We’ve all experienced it, though some certainly to a greater extent and gravity than others – when we are wronged by others who seemingly get away with it. Maybe there is some sort of miniscule consequence, a slap on the wrist, so to speak, though it seems more often than not even that is not always guaranteed. In cases when we are violated on some of the most basic levels of who we are, areas like race, biological gender, beliefs… how are we to respond? I’ve heard this question posed in a few different ways over the last couple months, each time a different facet of this question expressed, and it definitely holds some quite serious and sobering implications about our relationship with the Lord and how that relationship informs the way we live. Prior to moving forward, there are a few things to both acknowledge and consider.
First – just as God is love, God is just. His justice is not in conflict with His love; He is infinitely, transcendentally all that He is. God is not bound by space and time – He operates within space and time, but is self-existent. He formed and sustains all of creation, including space and time. That being the case, even when it doesn’t seem like justice has been served, God tells us that He neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:4). While some people use the problem of people perpetuating evil on others to discredit and break fellowship with God, the fact that God will judge each person is one aspect of His nature that causes me to trust in Him. Please don’t misunderstand, it’s not that I want horrible things to happen to people. Rather, based on how the Lord has revealed Himself throughout Scripture, I can rest in His faithfulness that He will do what He says He will do – a fact that is both comforting and terrifying depending on where you are in relation to Him. Once God has stated something, it is fact; when we see God stating and revealing things about Himself in Scripture, it gives us a foundation to build our relationship with Him upon. Contrary to the changing nature, whims, and questionable integrity of humans, when God states something, you can know that He is being truthful; it’s impossible for God to lie (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Ps. 89:35; Heb. 6:18).
Second – God states that the wicked will not go unpunished (Prov. 11:21; Is. 13:11; Psalm. 37:34, 59:5; Ezekiel 3:18). By forcing those who have wronged us to suffer, whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise, we are taking revenge into our own hands and out of God’s hands. We are told that vengeance is God’s and to leave room for God to work in situations where we’ve been wronged (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19). While I do desire that as many people as possible would come to know the Lord and follow Him, I also understand that implies the forgiveness of some people who have done some pretty heinous things. This is where it’s good that I’m not God, because I can’t see people’s hearts and would likely be pretty harsh to those who didn’t treat my family rightly (and if in this example I’m God, that’d be a huge family and a lot of authority to be wielding). All that being said, we don’t always see how God is dealing with someone – if it’s emotionally, mentally, relationally, physically… or even if said person will not be judged until they’re in eternity. It’s not for me or you to assign a final judgment or anyone, even for people as twisted as Stalin, Hitler, or Mussolini. God has said that He will avenge; that enables me to rest in His faithfulness and know that I can trust Him to keep His word. Don’t try to force payback; give God room to work. “Revenge [unforgiveness] is a blade that saves its most lethal cut for the one who wields it.”
Those two points serving as the foundation for our response, let’s consider a few things. The first thing is that each of us has a choice to make when we’ve been wronged. We can choose to let what’s happened destroy us, or we can choose to surrender it to Jesus and allow Him to draw us closer through the resolution He has for us. I completely understand that this can be very difficult, especially in cases of things like wrongful death, rape, abuse, or even the suicide of someone who was close to us. I don’t mean to imply that forgiveness is necessarily something that will be as easy as breathing, but it is a daily process that we are called to as Christians. Jesus calls His followers to “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24-25). South African Anglican cleric and theologian Desmond Tutu says, “Forgiveness is not cheap, it’s not facile – it’s costly; reconciliation is not an easy option. It cost God the death of His Son.”
One thing many of us fail to consider when bearing grudges is this – because of our sin, Jesus had to die to enable us to enter into relationship with God once again. While we are saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, God did have to surrender His Son to death for a crime He didn’t commit. God is a person; He has feelings; think about the heart-rending struggle this would have been for the Father. Though God the Father would have had every right to hold Jesus’ death against us, to hold our sin against us, He forgives us when we turn to Him and repent, or walk away from, our sin. Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin (Heb. 4:15). If you’ve been victimized by someone, I won’t be so callous, dismissive, and flippant as to say I know what you’re going through – as a separate person how can I exactly know? – but Jesus does. He sees you, and not only sees you, but wants to walk with you and reside in you to lead you in your healing.
It can be agonizing to forgive people who have wronged you. I’m sure Jesus understands that struggle all too well. If you’re at a place where you don’t feel like you can instantly offer total forgiveness, why not start with a “prayer before the prayer”? Before coming to the point where you pray to offer forgiveness to the other person before the Lord and to that person as well, why not pray for the Lord to help you begin looking at forgiving that person, to soften the heart of stone you may have developed and exchange it for a heart of flesh. Forgiveness of this kind is radical, and even supernatural – it goes beyond what we could do naturally on our own, but for evidence that it can be exercised, look at the family of missionary Jim Elliot and how they responded to his killers in the account described in the movie, End of the Spear, or how the church subjected to the St. James Day Massacre forgave the murderers who shot up the church, or how the kids of a man who was carjacked and shot live on the internet forgave the killer.
One of the many great things about God is this, He wants you to be honest with Him about how you’re feeling and allow Him to lead you in the process of healing and restoration. Don’t try to hide how you’re feeling from God; He already sees your heart and wants you to be honest and open with Him. If you’re uncertain of what to do or where to start, why not take a look at Psalm 73? It outlines the heart cry of one who has been wronged by people who seem not to care in the slightest, and even seem to have gotten away with it. At times, only the Spirit of God can soften our heart to the point of forgiveness. If you find yourself struggling with forgiveness, don’t walk that road alone. Let Him work on your heart.
One point of caution when talking about forgiveness – we must forgive or we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:14-15). This is so serious that Jesus instructed His followers that even if they were in the middle of prayer and worship and remembered they were harboring a grudge against someone, they were to drop everything and seek reconciliation/forgiveness with them. Make it right. This is mandatory, not optional. This is not to say that forgiveness is as easy as flipping a switch; it can be a long, even day-by-day or moment-by-moment process. Your heart is what will make the difference. Are you open to the Lord molding your heart and personally extending forgiveness to the one(s) who wronged you? It’s okay if it’s a process, but the Lord sees your heart and will not accept only partial reign in your life; He’s either Master of all or not at all.
All this being said, no justice and no recourse for injustice is not okay. God is Judge, He is love, He is just, and holds us all accountable for what we’ve done. If it’s not addressed in life, you can be certain it will be addressed when we all stand before Him. If you don’t know Him as your personal Master and Savior, the Bible says you must confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. Then get baptized to identify yourself publicly with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then get plugged into a bible-believing church that is serious about realizing the Great Commission in Matthew 28. If you don’t know Him, but you want to, and you want Him to being healing the wounds in your life, say, “Dear Jesus, I come to You as a sinner. I need You; wash me; cleanse me; make me new. I ask you to be my Savior, be my Master, and my best Friend. I am Yours; You are mine. Live Your life in me. I give myself to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” If you prayed that honestly believing that, you’re now a part of God’s family. Get plugged in to a church with other Christians and see what God has in store for you. Forgiveness can be hard, but God will sustain you with His incomparable grace and power.