I have been working these past weeks on a Bible study guide (details forthcoming) and it has been a helpful and vexing exercise. It is difficult to assume the position of spiritual guide (being the author) when you are afflicted with uncertainties of your own and contending with common struggles that have been known to men and women throughout all time. Inevitably, I would be put to the test regarding whatever virtue I was exploring at that point. For example, on a day when I was writing about “Reconciliation” I found myself on the receiving end of a subtle yet unmistakeable barb that affronted me. It doesn’t matter what the barb itself was. What matters is that it hurt, I was affronted, and I was writing a Bible study guide on the topic of reconciliation. It is worth noting that the virtue I explored prior to reconciliation was “Forgiveness.” Either way, the exercise of these virtues demands power that arises from beyond human inclination.
In these guides I confront a dilemma, and I guide the reader also to confront it: Is it possible to be reconciled when the offending party hasn’t a clue that they hurt you or; worse, when they don’t care? I am not going to be platitudinal about it. In the purview of my understanding of biblical virtue, the answer is — sometimes.
Some people will never know the things they do that hurt other people. I include myself in that category. It cannot be helped that we are born who we are with certain features of our specific personality: some blessed, some wretched. It also cannot be helped if during one’s formative years emotional deficits or other troubles existed that distorted healthy soul formation, making for a lot of dysfunction all the way around. There is always collateral damage in the lives of people who have suffered in this way.
Positive thinkers will tell you that you can’t control any of that but you can control how you respond to these dysfunctions, both as they present themselves in your disposition as well as how they might be foisted upon you by someone else’s. This is true. But it isn’t easy, is it?
When it comes to people’s trespasses against you, as a community of faith, we are not given the option to wallow in it. Curl up, maybe cry, put a pillow over your head. Then get up. There’s nothing to be done but find a way inside your own wounded soul to grow around it and move on.
Some grievances are heinous and soul-killing. Reconciliation is less viable in these cases. Yet Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote in his book God Is Not a Christian that even the most monstrous perpetrator of a crime needs to be treated not as a “monster” or “demon,” but as a human who carries dignity: “Monsters have no moral responsibility,” he says. “Forgiveness is never cheap, never easy, but it is possible. Ultimately real reconciliation can happen only on the basis of truth.”
For those who cannot confront truth or will not confront it, true reconciliation is elusive. In these cases it is best to pray for healing in your own soul and for the soul of the perpetrator and wait upon God to move and work in his time. As for the affronts of a more benign nature that assault us regularly, establish your heart in an attitude of grace and turn your face toward light.