Saturday, May 03, 2008

Sometimes the Unintended Sin is Worse

Sometimes people don't try to hurt each other, they just do. In fact, they may be passionate in their pursuit of God, faithful to deal with known sin in their lives, willing to repent of wrong behavior, genuinely desirous of being kind and useful to their friends, and yet blind to character flaws in themselves that sabotage every interaction with those they love.

It happens and it hurts. Recently, I have been shown some truly devastating character flaws in my own heart and behavior. I have hurt people that I love and was completely and totally unaware that my words had cut and discouraged and in some ways demeaned and disrespected precious servants of Christ seeking to serve him with passion and zeal.

And it wasn't just a one-time thing. Others have pointed out a pattern that I was completely blind to. They have given unescapably true examples of how my words have injured.

It is one thing to say that you know that your heart is wicked and in need of an every-moment-rescue, but it is another to see the evidence put right in front of your face and see the devastating effect of your words.

This is particularly true for a man who has probably preached on Ephesians 4:29 more than any other text of Scripture. Now I find that in important ways, I have failed and failed miserably to "only speak that good word which is necessary for the moment," the word that edifies the hearer by giving grace to them for the challenges of their lives. When the preacher doesn't practice what he preaches it is a devastating thing for the sheep.

The fact that it was not my intention. The fact that I thought all was well. The fact that I never, in my heart, disrespected, devalued, or intended to discourage. The fact that I thought all was well and that my friends had no problem with me or my words to them, that in fact they loved me and respected me, counts for nothing. My words hurt them. That is what counts.

I sinned against my brothers and sisters for whom Christ shed His blood. The fact that it was unintentional doesn't transform the cold, hard, knife of my sin into a plastic play toy. And because I was unaware that I was doing it, because my blindness was so complete, it is worse than if I had intended it. Not a worse sin, but worse in its effect.

Being blind myself, my injured brothers/sisters had no way to interpret my words and insensitive behavior than to assume that since it was so obvious to them, I must not care. They traveled easily down the path whose every sign said to them, "He doesn't care about you. He is a hypocrite. He does not practice what he preaches." The fact that I was posting the very signs of my condemnation with my own words was proof. And yet, I was like a non-bilingual American posting streets signs in Russian--unaware of what I was doing.

What happens when unintended sin is committed and it goes un-confronted? It gets worse. At least for the victims it gets worse. They grovel and chafe under their oppressor and learn to "put up with," "cope," and "work around" the unhappiness in their lives. It becomes easier for them to believe the worst. The well from which they drink is continually polluted, discoloring all their perceptions. Meanwhile the oppressor, (me, in this long confession/meditation) blissfully continues to believe that all is well.

What I fool I have been. How great is my need for the Savior!

"Lord Jesus, thank you for the faithful wounds of friends who finally came and tore the whitewash off the wall of my awareness. Bless them and give them boldness and confidence in the future that their efforts to restore their brother have not been in vain. Give them joy in the fruit of this painful process. Help me to lose the scales from my eyes. Make me more careful and conscious of the effects of my words. Make me a better leader. Don't let me spoil the work that You would have me to do. Don't let my life obscure the wonder of the gospel.

O Jesus, please keep me from injuring my friends and brothers. Help me to be a model of repentance. Keep me from hindering the joy of Your people. For the sake of Your glory, my holiness and Your people's testimony of Your greatness and power to transform, I ask this. Amen.


Llama Momma said...

Thank you for sharing so vulnerably with us. So many times it's "not our intent" to hurt someone, but the truth remains that we do. Does our lack of intent release us from sins of prejudice and racism? Of course not.

And yet it's easy to trick ourselves into thinking we're fine. Being willing to listen, to really listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ, means acknowledging our sin and turning from it.

Thank you for being an example of this. I pray for grace to abound for all concerned, and for the reconciliation that Christ longs to bring us as believers.

Bless you.

ChosenRebel said...

Pray that I would remain soft to the Spirit of God. Surrendering said...

Dear Chosen Rebel:
I was deeply touched by your heartfelt expression of humility and contriteness in this particular blog. Your emotions are raw, vulnerable and exposed and your "love letter" overflows with the grief that you feel over another's hurt. Your blog exemplifies an appropriate, biblical response to your own wrongdoing and yet, because of the heavy emotional tone of your blog, perhaps some balance via reason and rationality is in order. I would like to try to offer that.
Your blog implies, even overtly states (“sometimes people … hurt each other” and “I have hurt people that I love”), that your words or actions somehow "made" (or "caused") the other party involved to have a certain, almost unavoidable and automatic reaction (in this case "hurt"). As if their reaction was beyond their control or somehow an inherent response to whatever you did. But is that really so? Is it really possible for you to actually hurt another? Didn't the other party have a choice as to how they responded to your (especially unintentional) error(s)? And how does the kind of love that God expects us to extend to one another (1 Corinthians 13), or the instruction God gives for the preservation of the unity of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 25; Ephesians 4:1-3) shape our responses to sin (real or perceived) in another?
I am reminded of the old adage: "No one can MAKE you feel inferior without your consent" (my emphasis added) which is Eleanor Roosevelt's gem for all of us. Isn't it also really the truth that no one can MAKE you feel anything without your consent? It seems so to me. Or we might word it a bit differently and say: "In life, it isn't so much your circumstances, but how you respond to your circumstances, that makes all the difference" (a point you made yourself in a recent sermon).
We live in a society which desperately wants to escape personal responsibility and liability for almost everything. Our legal system is replete with cases and suits (many of them absurd) from folks who have been "hurt" by someone else and to whom they are now charging culpability and hoping to extract some compensation. (Spill hot coffee on yourself and suffer some burns and pain? No problem. It's not your fault. Sue the fast food chain that sold you the coffee for not sufficiently warning you that their coffee was served scalding hot. Diagnosed with lung cancer after years of smoking cigarettes? No problem. That’s not your fault either. Sue the tobacco company for making a product that may have caused the lung cancer). We want to blame someone else for our lot in life or, perhaps more accurately, we are too weak and cowardly to shoulder the blame ourselves. Our gargantuan failure to take responsibility for our response to whatever happens is even intimately bound up in our language. How often have we heard (or said ourselves) something like: "This traffic jam MAKES me so mad!" or "My child/parent/spouse DRIVES me crazy!"? (We even think that “stress” is inherent in the situation. Yet is there any stress except for the stress we create?) So my lingering thought as I read this blog is to suggest that you didn't hurt anyone. Rather, they chose to be hurt about whatever they perceived about you. This isn't to say that you're excused from seeking their forgiveness for acting inappropriately if you did. But their response to whatever you did or did not do is not within your scope of influence and you cannot “cause” that response nor can you be responsible for it.
If the response of the hearer really were inherent in the situation then there would be no hope for us. We could never learn to become patient because the response of impatience would automatically result from any situation which requires us to wait longer than we felt we should have to. We could never learn to be kind because the response to another’s discourtesy towards us would mechanically spew meanness and cruelty from us. We’d also never learn how to bless those who persecute us, how to do good to those that hate us or how to pray for those who despitefully use us (Matthew 5: 44-46). And it would be utterly impossible to answer a fool in any way except according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4) – anger for anger, railing for railing, and striving for striving, this would be the best we could do since our response flowed robotically from the inciting, causative action without choice or responsibility on our part.
Jesus himself demonstrated and provided us with the ultimate example of our response being our responsibility. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) “Because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps; Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; “ (1 Peter 2:23).
Okay, we may wish that whatever intentionally (or unintentionally) awful thing that someone said or did had NEVER have been said or done. But why take it personally? If it's some form of judgment, the only reason it can have any sting is because it has some ring of truth. (If it didn't, wouldn't you just laugh it off?) And doesn't judgment after all tell us much more about the heart of the judger than anything intended to be revealed about the thing or person judged? This is a new day and we are new creatures! Let's take responsibility for our thoughts and their resultant reactions and emotions. That does mean seeking forgiveness when someone else chooses to be hurt over the matter. But it also means choosing our response to whatever circumstance we find ourselves in with wisdom, in a manner that expresses love, and after the example of our Lord and Savior. No one makes us feel anything. We choose to feel a certain way about any given situation. No longer a victim bent to and fro by the whims and caprices (and sins) of others, by taking responsibility for ourselves, our thoughts and our emotions, we become empowered; we become victors, not victims! No one can steal our happiness. No one can rob us of our peace.
So I humbly suggest that you did not “hurt” anyone, especially in a case where there was no intention to harm, (even though your words or actions may have been unbiblical) and that the other person(s) chose to become hurt by what you said or did. So I also submit that our emotional reactions are determined by our inner positionalities (our predominant thought structures) and beliefs. They are not “caused” from without.
With gratitude for your patience for my long response: Surrendering

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your heart with us, Chosen Rebel.

God is able to help us see our scariest traits, the ones we could never see on our own, the ones that even our closest friends are afraid to tell us about. I'm convinced our flesh somehow "recharges" overnight; we need daily to be convinced that we're every bit as lost as God has told us we are in His Word.

I was saddened by Surrendering's response. Hurtful words and actions are just that: hurtful.

It's no good to try to put the responsibility of the hurt on the one who's been wronged. For sure, a believer should show grace when wronged, and forgive, rather than keeping account of wrongs suffered. But the wrongs were, in fact, suffered. Let's not try to pretend they weren't.

Christ suffered at the hands of godless men. Really, actually, truly suffered. To put it in Eleanor Roosevelt's terms, I suppose one might correctly say He consented to it. Was that sin? May it never be!

If I understand him, is saying that we should deny ourselves a self-indulgent and sinful response to hurt. Amen and amen! By the grace of God, we can endure the hurt, but one can't deny the hurt.

Like, I think we play the victim far too often in our society. But many victims really ARE victims. Would you scold a shooting victim for bleeding after having been shot? You'd patch him up and encourage him to forgive the shooter, but you'd wouldn't tell him, "Next time have thicker skin."

And what of our responsibility to our weaker brother spoken of in Romans 14? The burden is on the stonger brother to not put a stumbling block in front of the weaker brother. "Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died."

One last thought: "Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that, as such we shall incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well." James 3:1,2

Speak the truth in love, brother. Surrendering said...

To My Brother Anonymous:

My brother is saddened
And sees me and what I have said
As the “cause” of his sadness;

Since he believes the world outside of him
Has caused his feelings within,
He will also see me as the cause of his happiness
If only I ask him to forgive me.

So I humbly seek his forgiveness,
That he can undo his hurt
And end his suffering.

For I always have the choice to be right
Or to be kind.
And because I love my brother
As myself,
And because I would that he not suffer,
I gladly lay down my pride,
And I willingly choose compassion.

Forgive me, my brother.
Lay the offense on me.
Hold me responsible for your sadness
And forgive me.

Please, I am begging you,
Will you forgive me?
Will you?

So let the truth
Be spoken in love:
For even as love covers a multitude of sins
So true love forgives;

And this we also know
That greater love has no man than this:
That he lay himself down,
Even his own life,
For his brother.

In the unifying Love of Christ: Surrendering

ChosenRebel said...

A friend has suggested to me (off line) that I should let any readers of this blog know that I have asked forgiveness of those I have hurt with my words.

It was good counsel.

Yes, as far as I know, I have asked forgiveness of every one I am aware of.

Restoration and reconciliation are wonderful gifts.