This was something I intended to muse about at the beginning of the year, a sort of New Year's thing. But along with the procrastination thing other events distracted me. But it all remains pertinent.
It's been on my mind because my church has recently come through a season of great turmoil. And it's left a lot of people still holding on to resentments. Certain folks, not just in my congregation but also in other churches who have had dealings with ministries at my church, are still harping on errors and perceived slights that occured during the time leading up to the turmoil. And it's really sad. The leadership at the church went through a lot of soul-searching and trouble to address the problems that had arisen. It's been painful. But the problems are indeed being addressed.
So why can't people let go of what went before? I really don't know.
Well, that's not entirely true. I do know: emotional content sticks with us for a long, long time. We remember years later slights and wounds we have received. The pang of a hurt can still be sharp, long after we have left the events far behind.
But as Christians, we are actually called to let go of all that. When a problem has been addressed, we're called to forgive. We're called to let go, and move onward.
Yet, some people continue to harp on incidents that they resented. They have to bring up the wrong they witnessed or experienced -- or, even worse, heard about from someone else. That the person who inflicted the wrong has been chastised and removed from the community apparently means nothing to the harper. They have to continue telling anyone who will hear about the wrong the absentee committed. Where, I wonder, is the forgiveness?
There comes a time when we need to stop with the sniping and backbiting about past events. Because it does not help the healing. Quite the contrary.
This is actually a rather big deal to me, because I am frequently reminded that our God is a God who is always giving us another chance to get things right with Him. He doesn't say "Oh, you messed up on that. I can never trust you again." He lets us start fresh every day, every minute. To me, that is a tremendous thing to know. No matter how badly I mess up, He's waiting there to give me another chance to get it right.
Because of that -- and because we are called to try and become more and more like our Lord -- I can't allow myself to hold onto resentments. If God is going to give someone another chance, who am I to close the door on that possibility?
Now, I am still human. Woefully so. There are some people who I know I just can't get along with. Some people who hurt me badly. I admit that I avoid those people, because I don't feel I can ever be comfortable around them. Is that a lack of forgiveness on my part? Possibly. But I do try to refrain from bad-mouthing those who have hurt me. I try.
So it bothers me a little bit when I see fellow believers behave in this unforgiving way. What saddens me is that I can see that they don't see how unforgiving they are being. They feel that they are being righteous, that they are justified in being critical of the behavior of those who have injured them. That they are justified in saying something like "I will never trust that person again!" Even when "that person" is another believer. They are unwilling to give second chances to those who have injured them.
Now, I'm not so naive as to think that once trust has been abused, one ought not to be cautious about trusting the abuser again. One does have to be wise about that. But to refuse to even consider that things can change? That people can change? If we behave that way toward others, how can we possibly expect others to give us second chances when we repent of errors or injuries we've inflicted?
And it's not that I'm defending the wrong-doers, at least not in the sense of making excuses for their past actions. The past is the past, and none of us can change that. We can only change how we look at it, how we choose to act regarding it. But if I'm going to go through life expecting second and third chances from God, I can hardly deny others that same grace.
Some days I'd really like to make a scene when I hear a friend backbiting about a past injury. I'd really like to say "That event is in the past. The perpetrator has been punished. Steps have been taken to remedy the situation. Why can't you stop with the complaining and sniping?" But I don't. Because, I think, I fear that my passion about it all would make me a bit too agressive. It's really hard to give someone a second chance when you have them squished under your heavy combat boot.
"How many times are we called to forgive a man?" the disciples asked Jesus. "Seven times seventy" was the reply... meaning "More times than you can remember to count."
That isn't easy. But God does it all the time. We should try it more often than we do.