forgiveness

Humans are funny creatures. We have a unique ability to hear selectively. It really comes down to our circumstances in life. Grace vs. Justice. Forgiveness vs. Consequences. Often it feels like these are binary opposites – completely unable to mesh one with the other. We especially see these concepts in opposition when it comes to relationships and personal conflict. And our selective hearing comes into play.

If we are the person who has wronged or hurt another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears GRACE and FORGIVENESS! We cling to these words as life-giving words. We may have sinned against God and against another person, but there is hope and newness is Jesus Christ: we can know grace and forgiveness.

If we are the person who has been hurt or wronged by another person our selective hearing turns to the Bible and hears JUSTICE and CONSEQUENCES! We cling to these words as sustaining words in our misery, knowing that God will repay others for the wrongs they have done to us and he will eventually vindicate us. We can know justice and see others face consequences for their actions.

But in our selective hearing we miss the major elements of what the Bible actually would say to us: that there is grace AND justice, and we may simultaneously experience forgiveness AND consequences. The offender will find grace and forgiveness through Jesus, while still suffering the consequences for past behavior.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite scenes in the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” In the scene, three escaped felons come across a church’s baptism service at a river. One felon gets caught up in the moment and rushes in to get dunked. He comes out proclaiming that no man has anything on him now for the preacher “done warshed away my sins.” The other felons end up having to tell him that, though he might be right with God, the state is still going to hold him accountable. That’s us, isn’t it?!? When we get right we God we expect (or hope?) that the person we wronged will welcome us with open arms.

We forget that we will still have to own up to the damage done by our actions.

On the flipside, when we are wronged and the offender repents, we often have a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus has cleansed that person and given him a new start. “Jesus might forgive, but I’m not ready yet!” That’s too often our attitude. The funny thing is, Jesus never put a limitation on forgiveness. How often should we forgive? 70×7 is what Jesus tells the Apostle Peter. And, hard as it may be, God calls us to be people of forgiveness just as he is a God of forgiveness.

It’s a difficult dance these binary pairs dance – the movement between grace and justice, forgiveness and consequences. When it comes to personal conflict each side needs to be willing to put down his word and pick up the other’s word for a while. Put it on and wear it for a bit. If you have been wronged, remember that Jesus has forgiven the offender. If you have done the hurting, remember that forgiveness does not mean avoiding the consequences of our behavior.

Wherever you fall, dance the dance. Repent. Forgive. Show grace. Accept consequences. And in the end we will find that relationships only really move beyond conflict when each side is willing to dance.