Monday, September 15, 2008

Easy to preach; difficult to practice

How can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom I have hunted
He gave me my life. He gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand
It was his right.
It was my right to die as well
Instead I live... but live in hell.

These words are sung by Javert in Les Misèrables, a police officer who had spent much of his life on a vengeful quest to bring a criminal who had escaped him many years earlier to justice only to find too late the error of his unforgiving quest.

Judgement and anger are two negative reactions that I struggle with on a daily basis. Forgiving in the absence of apology, for me, is difficult. Forgetting is nearly impossible. One chance encounter can often ruin my entire day, and subsequent days when the encounter finds its way once again into my recollection.

Today, for instance, a friend and I walked to Queen’s Park subway station. There was a line at the turnstiles so I lined up with her. When she had just passed through the turnstiles, a man (and someone behind him) appeared to be edging their way into the vertical line diagonally. I rushed ahead and swiped my pass, hearing the man trying to bud in swear under his breath: “Ugh, that guy just budded me.”

On the way down to the subway platform, my friend and I took the stairs, and the man took the adjacent escalator. On his way past me, he slammed his hand down on the rubber escalator railing to make a loud noise. This only served to further aggravate me, since I knew it was him who was clearly trying to bud into line. So his offences included not only trying to bud in but also thinking he had the right of way and belligerently being unable to keep his anger to himself.

Now once we get to the subway platform, my friend and I take separate routes; she goes north and I go south. So sitting by myself I had plenty of time to stew. In my head I have a tendency to replay scenarios over and over imagining how things might have turned out if I had reacted to the offense (these scenarios usually tend to get more angry and outlandish as I continue to imagine) and to work myself into a state of very high tension. Still, while I am reluctant to let go of the anger, I know intrinsically that these responses are not optimal. Not only are they not good for my psychological and physical well being, but they are also contrary to God’s direction for our lives.

Love for Enemies
43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

And so God calls on us to love not only those who are kind to us, but those who are not. Still this is very difficult, especially for me, as I often give into anger against thoughtless strangers quickly. Then I began to doubt: we are called to love those who offend us and who are unrepentant. Yet God, in his infinite mercy, still does not forgive those who do not believe or seek forgiveness.

Of course the answer to this came to me as quickly as the rebellious thought appeared. God has in him the authority to judge because he is just and blameless. In fact, today during lunchtime fellowship the idea was brought up that God must be just. As such, the sacrifice of Jesus’ life was required for our atonement – we as sinners could not simply be pardoned. We, as sinners, though forgiven are imperfect and unworthy. The role of judge is not ours to take upon ourselves.


7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

11"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Despite knowing these things in my head, I still lacked the will or the faith to put them into practice. The blood was still pumping through my veins. And so, I closed my eyes, and I recited the Lord’s prayer, with a bit of a revision…


9b" 'Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us today our daily bread.
12Forgive us our debts,
[and help us too to forgive] our debtors.
13And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'

And as I recited this over again and again, I felt my pulse slow down. Still, I knew that my bitterness would not be so easily tempered. So I tried to picture the stranger who had offended me, this time without feelings of anger. I tried instead to imagine how I might have responded to the situation with the opposite approach, in a gentle way that would make it difficult for the other party to remain incensed. In this way, I calmed myself by envisioning a proper Christian approach to a challenging situation.

Then in popped into my head another instance today of an offense by a stranger. Still, not to be irked after making this much progress, I again tried to approach this situation from the other cheek, imagining a gentle and loving response.

In a way, these imaginings were much like a game. It is unlikely that I would naturally think of responding in these ways given a situation like this, and even more unlikely that I would be able to put it into practice. But by playing this game, I look to change my way of thinking so that one day this may be more than a game… completely usurping my quick and fiery temper.

The question then is, who am I? Certainly, I continue to answer many situations with unrighteous responses: negativity, anger, or scorn. But through God’s love I can call upon his power to walk towards being the kind of person that I desire to be – a Christ-like kind of person… if I am truly willing. It is that kind of submission that will be most critical, and will continue to challenge me and my rebellious selfishness.

No comments: