Gripped with longing
sudden, swift, severe
a longing I cannot shake.
I know what I'm longing for is a fantasy
which will dissipate into hard reality and leave me emptier and lonelier than before
the promise of unparalleled pleasure morphing into unmatched pain
the moment the bite of that fruit is taken.
My eyes open, the lies exposed,
nothing to cover myself with.
Help me, I need grace again
so easily I forget, so hardly I fall.
Hold me fast, and let me see
those desires satisfied in you.
You are enough. My eyes lie to me when they tell me you're not. Hold me up, fill me up; let me walk another day; scarred, battle-weary, yet still
Valentine’s Day is a day that calls up all kinds of emotions if you’re single, most of them negative. No matter how much you convince yourself that it is simply a manufactured holiday which imposes a false sense of obligation on those who are coupled to spend money and drum up a sense of romance (which it is), it nevertheless manages to make you sharply aware of the fact that You Are Single and have no one to a) celebrate the day with or b) agree to not celebrate the day with. Either would be preferable to not having the option.
The day before Valentine’s Day, I felt massively convicted about my attitude. This wasn’t totally about the hearts-and-flowers day; I’d been in a somewhat negative frame of mind for some time. However, the central sense I felt was this:
I am so much more prone to wishing that someone would do something loving for me, than thinking of how I can do something loving for someone else.
I am so much more prone to wishing that someone would serve me, than thinking of how I can serve someone else.
I am so much more prone to thinking of my own needs and wants, than thinking of how I can help fulfill others’ wants and needs.
In short, I am self-centred and selfish far more than I am loving and giving and other-centred.
The lifestyle Jesus called us to live is one of radical selfLESSness. Of laying down our lives to love one another, even when we feel we aren’t being loved well. Of thinking of others first, rather than ourselves. Of seeking ways to serve, not waiting to be served. Of doing to others what we’d want them to do for us. Of course, he is the primary example of this.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
Jesus is the one who has the most right to demand to be served. He is Lord. And yet, he came as a humble servant, giving, loving, and sacrificing, and in the end, giving even his life for us.
I realized a far better way to spend Valentine’s Day than sitting around wishing that someone would do something for me, was to find someone to do something for. So I did. I went to dinner with an older lady who lost her husband about a month ago. I brought her flowers and a card. I chatted to her and heard about her husband’s final days. She was immensely grateful. And you know what? It made my day.
I’m not saying that to toot my own horn. Rather, to say that by stepping out and thinking of what might bless someone else, I was blessed. And this is not meant to be a one-day-of-the-year thing. Rather, as followers of Jesus we are called to sacrificial, self-forgetting, giving love 365 days of the year, not just to our spouse, but to everyone, especially in the body of Christ but also outside it. I’m totally convicted that that is not normally the way I live and I need to do a lot more of it.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a follower of Jesus, you’d be surprised how much you get back from thinking of and doing something for someone else, something you wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes, rather than waiting to have our needs met, the secret to joy is actually figuring out how we can meet someone else’s.Comments: 0
A question that’s long bothered me is why evil, harmful people don’t change. It boggles my mind that it is possible for someone to continue in destructive patterns of behaviour that consistently hurt the people around them (and possibly themselves) over periods of years, perhaps a lifetime, and seem to be completely devoid of self-awareness, genuine sorrow, or any desire to change.
Most of us, if we detect a problem in our behaviour, particularly if we learn that it is hurting others, will have some concern over that fact. We will usually try to change our behaviour. A healthy person will seek to discern the roots of the behaviour, if it is a particularly fixed problem, and work toward understanding and growth.
An evil person (which I’m defining as someone who consistently causes significant harm to the people around him or her, with little or no desire to change), on the other hand, seemingly will go to any lengths not to face the reality of his or her own sin and take responsibility.
Recently I read M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. While I don’t agree with everything in the book, it’s extremely insightful, particularly (I found) the second chapter, “Toward a Psychology of Evil”. I’m going to quote extensively from it because it rings very true to my experience of the evil people I’ve encountered.
Peck first makes a distinction between evil and ordinary sin (which all of us commit). He says that evil people are often very ordinary. They’re likely not convicted criminals. They’re the people we meet on the bus, at the shop, at work. They’re our parents, our neighbours, our spouses, our siblings, our friends.
If evil people cannot be defined by the illegality of their deeds or the magnitude of their sins, then how are we to define them? The answer is by the consistency of their sins. While usually subtle, their destructiveness is remarkably consistent. This is because those who have “crossed over the line” are characterized by their absolute refusal to tolerate the sense of their own sinfulness. (p. 71)
Peck says that guilt and the ability to perceive our own sinfulness is what keeps us from becoming evil:
The poor in spirit do not commit evil. Evil is not committed by people who feel uncertain about their righteousness, who question their own motives, who worry about betraying themselves. The evil in this world is committed by the spiritual fat cats, by the Pharisees of our own day, the self-righteous who think they are without sin because they are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of significant self-examination.
Unpleasant though it may be, the sense of personal sin is precisely that which keeps our sin from getting out of hand. It is quite painful at times, but it is a very great blessing because it is our one and only safeguard against our own proclivity for evil. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux put it so nicely in her gentle way: “If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.”
The evil do not serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to themselves. In fact, they don’t bear it at all....And it is out of their failure to put themselves on trial that their evil arises. (p. 72)
A prominent characteristic of evil people is the willingness to “scapegoat” others in order to preserve their image of self-perfection:
Scapegoating works through a mechanism psychiatrists call projection. Since the evil, deep down, feel themselves to be faultless, it is inevitable that when they are in conflict with the world they will invariably perceive the conflict as the world’s fault. Since they must deny their own badness, they must perceive others as bad. They project their own evil onto the world. They never think of themselves as evil; on the other hand, they consequently see much evil in others....
In other words, the evil attack others instead of facing their own failures. Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgement of one’s need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgement, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection. (p. 73-74)
Peck then asks the question, what is at the root of this failure to bear the pain of facing our own sin? Is it because evil people simply don’t realize their own evil, that they somehow cannot perceive the wrong that they do? No:
The cause is not, I believe, an absent conscience....
Utterly dedicated to preserving their self-image of perfection, [evil people] are unceasingly engaged in the effort to maintain the appearance of moral purity. They worry about this a great deal. They are acutely sensitive to social norms and what others might think of them....
The words “image”, “appearance,” and “outwardly” are crucial to understanding the morality of the evil. While they seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their “goodness” is all on a level of pretense. It is, in effect, a lie.... (p. 75)
This reminds me of the condemnation Jesus made of the Pharisees, that all their religiosity was designed as an outward show to impress people, while in reality they had no interest in justice or truth or loving others, which Jesus said was the heart of the law:
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” (Matthew 23:23: this whole chapter reads as a perfect description of evil masked in religiosity)
We’ve all known people like these. Their modern-day equivalents are alive and well, engaging in religious or social activity in order to appear good to themselves and others while cloaking the evil in their hearts and lives. These are the people who beat their spouses and then preach in church, or who serve in the priesthood while molesting children. They’re active in volunteering and helping others while leaving behind a trail of broken relationships.
Actually, the lie is designed not so much to deceive others as to deceive themselves....Yet the self-deceit would be unnecessary if the evil had no sense of right and wrong. We lie only when we are attempting to cover up something we know to be illicit....There is no need to hide unless we first feel that something needs to be hidden.
We come now to a sort of paradox. I have said that evil people feel themselves to be perfect. At the same time, however, I think they have an unacknowledged sense of their own evil nature. Indeed, it is this very sense from which they are frantically trying to flee. The essential component of evil is not the absence of a sense of sin or imperfection but the unwillingness to tolerate that sense. At one and the same time, the evil are aware of their evil and desperately trying to avoid the awareness....they are continually engaged in sweeping the evidence of their evil under the rug of their own consciousness....Evil originates not in the absence of guilt but in the effort to escape it. (emphasis added, pp. 75-76)
If the problem is not one of conscience, then what is it? Peck concludes it is malignant narcissism, or extreme self-absorption.
Psychologists use the term “narcissism” to mean a healthy sense of self-esteem, as well as the disorder. Peck explains what he means by the term:
Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will. All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal. They do what God wants them to do rather than what they would desire. “Thy will, not mine, be done,” the God-submitted person says. They believe in what is true rather than what they would like to be true....what their beloved needs becomes more important to them than their own gratification. In summary, to a greater or lesser degree, all mentally healthy individuals submit themselves to the demands of their own conscience. Not so the evil, however. In the conflict between their guilt and their will, it is the guilt that must go and the will that must win. (p. 78)
Peck acknowledges that this “malignant narcissism” is what most people call pride:
What is meant is...a kind of pride that unrealistically denies our inherent sinfulness and imperfection–a kind of overweening pride or arrogance that prompts people to reject and even attack the judgment implied by the day-to-day evidence of their own inadequacy....In Buber’s words, the malignantly narcissistic insist upon “affirmation independent of all findings.” (p. 80)
Extreme self-centredness; an image of oneself as perfect; the commitment to do anything but face one’s own faults and change, including scapegoating others; unsubmission to any law higher than one’s own desires: we have a recipe for the kind of damage that evil people do. This is what causes the “ordinary evil” of abusive or neglectful parents, unfaithful spouses, unreasonable and unmerciful bosses.
What is the cause of this malignant narcissism, the active commitment to preserving one’s self-image of perfection independent of all evidence, and avoiding the pain of change at all costs, even if and when that cost is damage to others? Peck believes the answer lies in human free will: the capability we are given to choose good or evil. Not all people who come from evil and abusive homes turn out evil. Many of the most evil people came from apparently good and loving homes. Environment is certainly a huge factor, but in the end, we have to choose whether we will go through the painful but rewarding process of change, or remain stubbornly stuck in childish and evil ways of operating. There is an enormous cost to taking the second path, however:
[T]he issue of free will, like so many great truths, is a paradox. On the one hand, free will is a reality....On the other hand, we cannot choose freedom. There are only two states of being: submission to God and goodness or the refusal to submit to anything beyond one’s own will—which refusal automatically enslaves one to the forces of evil. We must ultimately belong either to God or the devil. This paradox was, of course, expressed by Christ when he said, "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it. And whosoever shall lose his life, for my sake, shall find it." (p. 83)
Jesus diagnosed two spiritual paths, one leading to death, one leading to life. One way preserves one’s own self-righteousness at the expense of true righteousness from God, the other accepts the judgment on one’s own sinfulness and receives mercy and forgiveness:
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The irony is that the “evil” or malignantly narcissistic refuse to go through the “death” of judging their own sins, but they will face the second death of God’s judgment. Those who are willing to humbly and honestly admit their sin, accept God’s mercy and God’s righteousness rather than trying to establish their own, and put to death what is evil in themselves at whatever cost, will live.Comments: 0
One of my all-time favourite teas is milk oolong. A friend introduced me to it, and I’ve been in love ever since. However, I limited myself to occasionally buying 10 grams at a time from the Tea Emporium, as it is quite pricy ($38/100g at The Tea Emporium).
Imagine my delight when I realized that David’s Tea sells Quangzhou Milk Oolong for only $24/100g. David’s employees explained to me that they bought such large quantities that the supplier had reduced the price. Perfect!
However, the more I steeped this tea, the more I became convinced that it did not measure up to the milk oolong I remembered. It had much less of the creamy flavour I recalled. And it didn’t stand up very well to multiple steepings. It became leafier and more astringent with each successive steeping, no matter what temperature or brewing time I tried. Even the hint of creaminess and floral sweetness disappeared.
So I decided to do a side-by-side taste test of David’s Tea Quangzhou Milk Oolong and The Tea Emporium’s Guangzhou Milk Oolong.
I used approximately 1.5 teaspoons of tea per cup, and brewed them for 1 minute. The water had been boiled, poured into a cup to measure it, then poured into the cups with the tea.
Here are my impressions. In summary, the Tea Emporium version won out, hands down.
The Tea Emporium’s milk oolong had a distinctly full, round, creamy flavour. The “mouth feel” I remembered. It was delicate and floral, but also buttery and rich. The flavours were balanced and harmonized perfectly, making for a unified and very pleasing whole. It’s an enchanting specialness that you can’t forget.
In the David’s version, the dominant note was a sort of sharp sweetness that tasted slightly artificial. There was also a leafy flavour, not exactly astringent but shading toward it. The full, rich, creamy mouth feel was notably absent. The flavour was much less balanced and much more one-dimensional. “Artificial” was the word that kept coming to mind, though according to David’s, it’s just pure oolong tea.
The David’s tea wasn’t unpleasant, but it simply didn’t stack up. It is a perfectly nice oolong on its own, if you don’t compare it to a high quality milk oolong. However, it’s not the same experience.
The Tea Emporium milk oolong also holds up well through multiple brewings (I normally steep it 5 times), revealing new flavour characteristics each time but retaining the rich butteriness. My favourite kind of tea, hands down.
Glad I’ve sorted that out! It’s a pity the less expensive version doesn't win. But, I guess you get what you pay for...Comments: 0
It’s an evil world. We only have to watch the news to know that. Unspeakable atrocities happen every day on a global scale.
But we don’t have to watch the news to know that. Most of us don’t make it through life without learning it on a personal level. Human atrocities happen every day, on the scale of one human being relating to another. People do terrible things to one another regularly, some that are illegal, some that aren’t. Some that are found out and stopped, some that aren’t.
If we’ve ever experienced a deep personal hurt, we may also have experienced grief, outrage and indignity that the person who hurt us may have completely escaped any form of justice. He or she may be living life quite fine, happily going along completely unrepentant, uncaring about the evil they perpetrated on us, and even seemingly prospering.
At moments like this, we may wonder, where is God? Does he see? Does he hear? Does he care? Where is his justice? Why are evil people allowed to escape, living unremorseful, unchanged, uncaring, and seemingly untouched by any form of consequence for what they’ve done? Perhaps while we or others are still suffering for it?
This isn’t a new question. In fact, it’s an age-old one, voiced over and over in the Psalms. The psalmists wrestled with God, wondering why wicked people flourished, and what he was going to do about it (e.g. Psalms 10 & 73). It’s still one of the biggest stumbling blocks to believing in Christianity: why does God allow evil? Even for Christians, it can be disheartening and discouraging and lead us to question the reality of God’s care.
Two thousand years ago, the apostle Peter addressed this very issue:
….scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:3-10)
God’s seeming silence and inaction do not mean he doesn’t see, doesn’t care, and will not bring judgement. Rather, his motivation for delaying judgement is, quite simply, mercy. He doesn’t punish evildoers right away because he’d rather they come to repentance. He is giving them space and time to turn to him.
God is outside of time. His perspective is not our perspective. To us, the lifetime of an evil person may seem an eternity. To God, it’s the blink of an eye. He sees the end from the beginning. If evildoers don’t repent, they are going to face his wrath. But his compassion means he'd rather they find mercy.
That’s good news. We have to remember, when we cry out for instant judgement, that if God hadn’t shown us mercy and given us time, we wouldn’t be saved. If he had lowered the boom the instant we sinned, none of us would be here today. God desires the same for even the most evil person.
The scoffers Peter talks about take it the wrong way. The conclude that God’s inaction means they will not face his judgement, and therefore they can go on sinning with impunity. They don’t understand that instead, he is allowing them time to be reconciled to him. God’s silence is not weakness or ignorance. It is compassionate patience.
So he waits. But he won’t wait forever. At some point, at a time when no one knows, the books will be closed. Accounts will be dealt with. Every person living and dead will face him and give an answer for everything they did. At that point, it will be too late. No one will escape. If they have not repented before that, they will no longer be able to do so. Evil will be destroyed forever.
We can take comfort in this. Our confidence in God’s coming judgement, which will spare no evil deed, and our knowledge of his desire for mercy, allows us to keep doing good without losing heart, forgive those who have harmed us, and pray for them that they would find the same redemption we have, as Jesus commanded. We know God will take up our cause and bring justice for the evil done against us, and we can rest in that and follow the example of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)Comments: 0
These are really yummy and very filling. Can be used as an appetizer, or a main course for a vegetarian meal.
- 1 540 ml/19oz can lentils, drained
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1-2 large cloves garlic, minced fine
- ½ small or ⅓ large red bell pepper, chopped fine
- ½ small or ⅓ large yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped fine
- ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
- ¼ tsp cumin
- salt and lots of fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup flour
- extra-virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients except flour thoroughly. Add flour and mix well. Cover bottom of non-stick frying pan with generous amount of olive oil and heat over medium heat.
To form patties, place heaped tablespoon of mixture on the flat side of a wooden spoon or spatula, press down, and slide into frying pan. Fry until well-browned on one side and patty holds together when turned over. Turn over and fry until browned on other side. Serve warm.Category: Recipes Comments: 0
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them....Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14,17-21)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage recently. It’s instructions for what to do when someone has wronged you. It’s the path to great peace of mind and freedom, even if it is totally contrary to our natural instinct, which is to hate and seek revenge on a person who has hurt us.
The final sentence particularly has stuck in my mind. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
If we return evil for evil, if we respond to the wrong someone has done to us by hating them, seeking revenge, holding on to bitterness and anger, or speaking badly of them, evil multiplies and evil has triumphed. If we allow ourselves to respond in kind to someone who has harmed us, evil has won.
Where is the end? If we respond to hatred with hatred, harm with harm, evil with revenge, injustice with malicious gossip, where is the end and where is the hope? Evil multiplies and continues in its cycle, hurting us, the other person, and everyone in our path. It’s why wars explode, why family feuds cycle through generations, why hatred between different ethnic groups perpetuates, why people live out their lives crippled by bitterness. When evil responds to evil, evil has won and rages on unabated.
We can stop evil in its tracks, neutralize it, and overcome it, simply by refusing to respond with more evil. Even if it seems “just”. We can respond in kindness and love. We can do good to our enemies. We can pray for them. We can bless them instead of cursing them. We can turn from the evil and create peace. We can end the cycle.
We can do all this knowing that God will bring justice to our enemies and those who have harmed us.
I have personally found that a lot of this happens in my thought life. When angry, bitter, condemning, negative thoughts crop up about a person who has hurt me, I have found it very helpful to recognize those thoughts, stop in my tracks, and begin to bless that person and to pray for them instead. It helps. Immensely. It restores peace of mind and blessing and takes my mind out of its negative track.
Let’s not perpetuate evil but instead neutralize it in our lives by responding in love. Evil doesn’t have to win. It doesn’t have to have power over us.Comments: 0
A question I’ve struggled with many times, is what does it mean to forgive someone who is unrepentant and unchanged? Someone who may have done serious and genuine evil, but refuses to acknowledge it, has never apologized (or maybe offered a half-hearted, self-justifying apology), and has carried on with their life as if nothing happened? Who continues to avoid blame or responsibility, even years after the original offense? Who continues in their harmful behaviour, to you or to others?
It’s relatively easy to forgive someone who recognizes the nature of their offense, is truly sorry, seeks to make amends and changes their behaviour. It’s possibly the most difficult thing we will ever be asked to do, to forgive someone who remains unrepentant, who refuses to recognize or acknowledge the harm they did. Such a task seems completely impossible.
I’ve even questioned whether I have to forgive people like this. But Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness seems quite clear and without any exceptions: “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Mark 11:25, Luke 6:27-28)
It’s helpful in this case to think of forgiveness using Jesus’ metaphor of debt. Unforgiveness is, in essence, holding on to the debt that someone owes us and demanding its repayment in some fashion. That may be revenge, it may be them being sorry, restoring something they took from us, or loving us again. We remain tied to the pain, the bitterness, the anger, and the resentment of expecting someone to give something to us that they either never can or never will. Those people, and their unpaid debts, control our lives, our emotions and our choices. We need someone to do something so we can be free and we are stuck because we cannot control them.
In many cases, the person cannot possibly pay back the debt. In other cases, they will not. They may be dead, or completely unaware of their “balance owing”. They may not care or even believe they have done wrong. In the meantime, we are the ones suffering.
A good question to ask yourself is: am I gaining anything by not forgiving? Am I going to get anything back from this person by not forgiving? Am I going to change anything? The answer is no. We’ll simply remain in pain.
We avoid forgiveness because it involves grief. It means recognition and acceptance of our loss, and realizing that it will never be paid back. It means letting go of the impossible and painful hope that someone else will heal us by changing. This grieving can be deeply and intensely painful but allows us to move on. It releases us from the past and allows us to move into a healthier and more peaceful future. The only other choice is to remain destroyed by what happened.
Regardless of what was done to us and how bad it was, forgiveness is within our power, with God’s help. It does not involve the other person, though the outgrowth of it might. Unforgiveness in some sense agrees with the evil; it perpetrates it by allowing bitterness, resentment, and the effects of the original wrong to negatively affect our feelings and behaviour. Forgiveness cuts the evil off outside of ourselves, allowing us to live free of what was done to us. It is not a statement about the rightness of the other person’s behaviour; it is a choice to let go of it so we do not remain crippled by it. It is facing the evil, the wrong, the hurt, and the pain, and letting it go anyway. It is not denying the hope for justice, but leaving the person to God and allowing his justice to prevail (Romans 12:19).
But what about reconciliation? A strong objection to forgiveness is the idea that it means reconciliation with a harmful person who does not acknowledge their wrong and has not changed. The idea of exposing yourself to further abuse or attempting to trust someone who has proved untrustworthy keeps people from forgiving. This is most definitely not what forgiveness means.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness deals with the past and cancels a debt that has already been incurred. Reconciliation deals with the future and the possibility of ongoing relationship. Forgiveness involves only one person—you—and requires no action on the other's part. Reconciliation requires both parties and depends on the other's current state. Forgiveness paves the way for reconciliation, if the other person desires that and demonstrates real repentance and change.
Jesus talks about the procedure when someone wrongs you: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)
If someone has been confronted with the wrong they’ve done and refused to change, an appropriate response is withdrawal of relationship. This is not about hatred or revenge. It is about protecting yourself from further harm, and about giving that person the just consequences for their behaviour in the hope that they will repent. The sad truth is that many people never do. But you will be removed from the effects of their choices, and you will not be enabling or agreeing with them. Of course you can hope and pray for that person’s repentance. But you are not in control of their choices, only yours.
It is possible to genuinely wish someone well, care about them, and pray for them, without being in relationship with them. This is what true forgiveness leads to, even if angry feelings come up sometimes and you have to forgive again.
In some cases, you may remain involved with the person, but the relationship has to be shallow or limited. There are a myriad of situations, and each one requires wisdom. Someone else might not change, but you can be completely free, regardless of what they do or do not do. That is what forgiveness gives you.Comments: 0
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the progression of temptation and sin.
Maybe you’ve been there. You get into a situation that you know is not right or good and you think, “How did I get here?” You feel like you were helplessly swept along by forces or circumstances outside of your control. You might blame God or other people. You excuse yourself because of your weaknesses and your needs. You wonder, “How am I going to get out of this?”
I’ve had a key realisation. It’s that every sin, every bad situation and wrong choice that brings harm and destruction to yourself and others, always has a beginning. The beginning is usually very small. It grows on you gradually. Something you may never even have considered doing suddenly becomes something you’ve done, and maybe feel you can’t live without. You wonder how you got there, when in truth, it all began with a thought. A feeling. A desire. A curiosity. The thing becomes more and more plausible, more and more desirable, till you’re left with the feeling that you can’t walk away.
You try to see how close you can come without doing too much harm. You try it, a little bit, and say you won’t do it again. You make lines that you swear you won’t cross. You say you won’t do such-and-such, but before long, you’ve done it. You then say you won’t do such-and-such that is further along the path, but before you know it, you’ve done that too. You give in, little by little, till you’re somewhere you never thought you’d go. You’re left struggling with shame, regret, pain, and loss. You wonder how you could ever have been so deceived or so foolish.
The key is recognizing those things right from the very beginning, in their very small and sometimes barely perceptible first stages. That pull of desire toward something, while seemingly innocent, if left to grow unchecked, soon grows bigger and bigger. Before long, thoughts and desires become actions. We become addicted to the thing we desire, as we give in more and more. It becomes far harder, or impossible, to walk away. We tell ourselves we can get out before it’s too late. But the reality is, we’re headed down a road which ends only one place.
James describes this progression really well:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:13-15)
It goes without saying that temptation comes in the area of desire. If there’s no desire, there’s no battle. We can’t be tempted by something we don’t want.
Temptation “hooks into” areas of desire in us. We’re “lured” and “enticed” by things that promise to fulfil those desires in meaningful ways. We might know that these things are wrong. But their allure draws us in until we find ourselves wondering if they’re really that bad. We start making excuses for why we need to meet our needs in these particular ways. Our desire feels stronger than our ability to say no.
We might think that since God apparently hasn’t met our need in a particular area, it’s legitimate to try to do it ourselves. As humans, we are extremely skilled at rationalisation when it comes to satisfying our desires. We are masters of thinking up ways to make what we want seem not so very bad, and even reasonable. We blame God, other people, our circumstances for our choices.
Before we know it, we’re trapped into a series of choices that bring harm to ourselves and others, and to our relationship with God: what James calls “death”. Sometimes this is in big ways, sometimes this is in small ways.
The answer is to recognize those pulls of desire from the very beginning, when they are very small. Recognize thoughts and feelings that draw you toward something that you know is not God’s will. Recognize the beginnings of a road, which, if travelled down, will lead to death. Kill those things right from the start.
It’s a bit like uprooting a tree. When a tree seed sprouts, it’s very small. It’s no bigger than any other plant, and it’s very easily pulled up. There’s only one small tap root that goes down a few inches into the ground, and you can pluck it out with little effort and little impact to the surrounding earth.
But think about a giant tree that has been many years in the making. It has a huge trunk and a vast root system that spreads out deeply and widely into the ground. Ripping it out requires heavy equipment and a lot of effort, and leaves a massive hole. Even so, there are thousands of pieces of root left behind that may never be removed.
That’s the way sin is. If you are able to recognize it when it is a small sprout, right at the beginning, when it is simple to uproot, tear up, and throw away, it’s quickly and easily dealt with. If it is allowed to grow, if it is fed and watered and becomes a huge tree, it can be removed, but it will be far more difficult, painful, and costly, and things will be left behind that may take much time and care to root out. The impact on your heart and life will be far greater.
God always gives us warning signals. If you are his child, if you have his Spirit, you know when something you are thinking about or desiring is not right. Those signals are there for a reason. They are telling you “danger” because there is danger. It’s not going to end well. God is warning you for your own good. It never pays to go against those feelings, or against what we know is right. It may seem legitimate and plausible, but it never works out that way. It promises life, but it always delivers death.
I’ve overridden those warning signals far too many times. I do it because I want whatever it is I’m being warned against. I’m an incredibly stubborn person, and I think I know best. I allow curiosity about “what might happen” to push me past those barriers. I’ve learned it’s far better to just trust God and listen and obey from the start, and avoid the pain and regret of learning the hard way.
The book of Proverbs is all about wisdom: learning to live well by understanding and keeping God’s commands. I was hit by this verse recently:
Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of the evil. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. (Proverbs 4:14-15)
It’s really simple. Just don’t go down that road. Avoid it altogether. Pay attention to the warning signals, and turn away. Walk on the path you know is right. You’ll be blessed for it, and you’ll avoid trouble. You’ll be a blessing to others. You’ll know the peace, happiness, and joy that only come from walking in a right relationship with God and others.
That said, the good news in all of this is that God is a God of amazing redemption and grace. No matter how far you’ve gone down the road of any particular sin, he is always ready and willing to forgive you and help you get out. If you humble yourself and cast yourself on him for mercy, he will help you turn around and go back in the other direction (sometimes called “repentance”). He will help you start brand-new and give you freedom from whatever you were in bondage to. It’s never too late. You may have to suffer consequences from what you did, but not forever. God is amazingly good at redeeming and changing literally any situation; in fact, it’s his specialty. If you go to him for mercy, he will never turn you down.Comments: 0
This is certainly not an authoritative guide. I’ve had to do a lot of forgiveness, and this is what I’ve found works for me.
1. Recognize the need to forgive
This may seem obvious, but often it’s not. We may be suffering from anger, depression, and hurt over offenses that happened many years ago. Often facing those buried issues from the past and forgiving is the key to releasing that pain.
I personally can take a while to recognize the need for forgiveness even in current situations. Sometimes this is because I’m so angry and hurt that forgiveness is the last thing on my mind. Or, it can be because the offense is not something the person has done deliberately “wrong”, but it has had an effect on me nonetheless. If we are holding anger and resentment, the answer is forgiveness, whatever the cause.
If we’re continually thinking about a person or situation, it causes us stress, we are angry and hurt, we find ourselves reliving certain events, we fantasize about getting back at someone, we have imaginary conversations where we convince them of their wrong, we can’t “let it go”—these are all indications of the need to forgive.
If you are feeling general stress, lack of peace, anxiety, anger, or other negative emotions, often the root is unforgiveness. You can take it to God and ask him to show you if there’s anyone or anything you need to forgive.
2. Decide to forgive
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, forgiveness is a decision. It’s an act of the will, a choice made to obey God, whether we feel like it or not. Often the things we have to forgive are so monumental we may struggle with coming to a place where we are willing to. We may recognize that we need to, but we are honest about the fact that we can’t. That’s ok. It’s all right to struggle with God, and ask him for help. He doesn’t expect us to do anything we aren’t ready to do. The important thing is to be willing to obey him and to ask for his help.
We may say, “I can’t forgive, I hurt too much.” OK. But you will continue to hurt until you are able to release the bitterness through forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t an instant answer, a magic solution to wipe away all pain at once. It’s a process. We may have to forgive many times, as the pain comes up again. But we can do it, God will help us, and it will get easier.
Once we’ve made the decision to forgive and we are fully behind it with our will, 99% of the battle has been won. The only thing that remains is to follow through.
I find it helpful to write out a list of things I am forgiving the person for. I recognize all things or aspects of things that I am angry for, and write them down.
Again, some of these may be things the person didn’t specifically do “wrong”. They may have let you down through no fault of their own. The point isn’t their intent, the point is your reaction. If it hurt you, you need to forgive. Forgiveness is releasing your resentment and your demand that they pay you back, whatever their intentions were. If you know you have anger about something, write it down.
Next I go through the list and pray: “God, I forgive so-and-so for...” and name each offense. Consciously and as a choice, release this thing to God. Decide that you are not going to hold on to the demand for repayment for this particular offense. You are letting it go.
The good news is that though forgiveness may be difficult, it is miraculously releasing and healing. You will feel a burden lifted, and you will feel peace, maybe for the first time in a long time. Even if you fall back into negativity and bitterness, you can forgive again to come back to this place. Eventually the pain will completely lift.
I have found that forgiveness often brings a new clarity and a new understanding of the person and the situation. Rather than seeing them as someone evil who has done you harm, you are capable of seeing them in a more sympathetic light, as a fundamentally broken person who was attempting to function and meet their needs in a broken way. This does not excuse what they did, but it does allow you to extend the same grace to them that you’d want extended to yourself. It allows you to pity them rather than to see yourself as their victim.
This may seem like a funny thing to put in a forgiveness process, but I find that as I forgive, God very often convicts me of ways I’ve sinned against the other person. If this comes up, confess and ask for forgiveness yourself.
In some situations, the fault is solely on the other person’s side. For example, in child abuse, the child is never at fault. We have to be careful not to take on false guilt, but also ready to face up to any wrong we realize.
5. Continue to forgive
Forgiveness usually isn’t a one-time thing. If a hurt has been major or ongoing, you will probably find the pain coming up again. It’s ok to feel hurt and grieve over an offense, even if you have forgiven it. But if you find anger, bitterness, and resentment creeping in again, forgive. If you remember other things they have done, forgive. If it’s someone you’re still in relationship with and fresh hurts come up, forgive.
The good news is that the initial forgiveness is like a “ground breaking”. The major work is done. Once you’ve positioned yourself in an attitude of forgiveness, the rest will follow.
6. (Possibly) express your forgiveness to the other person
This is optional. This can be a major breakthrough in restoring relationship. But it’s not helpful in every situation, and sometimes it’s impossible.
The person you’re forgiving may be dead, or unreachable. They may want nothing to do with you. They may not know that they hurt you, or the thing you’re forgiving them for may not be their fault. They may be completely unrepentant and telling them you’re forgiving them may simply make them angry. You may put yourself in further harm by contacting them. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
I believe each situation requires guidance from God. The key factor is whether expressing forgiveness would be beneficial to the other person and/or to your relationship. If not, keep it between yourself and God. Forgiveness is an act of your heart before him. It doesn’t require the other person’s knowledge or cooperation.
Alternatively or additionally, you may feel that you need to ask the person’s forgiveness for anything you did wrong to them. Ask God to show you.
Even if it is not possible or helpful to contact them, you may want to write them a letter. Say exactly what you would say to them if you could. If you aren’t sending it, you have the freedom to say anything. Fully express your anger and your hurt and how the offense affected you. Express your forgiveness. Ask their forgiveness for anything you’ve done wrong toward them. You may find this very healing and releasing.
If you decide you ought to contact them, keep the letter and write a second draft. Remove anything from the first one that would be hurtful or unhelpful, and write it for them to see. I express myself best through writing, so this is what I usually do. You may prefer a face to face or phone conversation. Do whatever works for you.Comments: 0