I am re-posting a piece I wrote almost five years ago, because, despite the passage of time, the painful experience of being insulted or affronted continues to crop up and there is no easy, nor (often) blameless way to navigate these difficult interludes.
The only revision I bring to these reflections is when, five years ago, I spoke of reconciliation as being “elusive” in the case of dealing with those who refuse to, or cannot, reckon with the truth. I have changed my stance on that determining instead that, in these instances, reconciliation is not elusive; it is impossible.
~ ~ ~
I when I was writing a Bible study guide for Hendrickson Publishers, it was 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 in that study by real-life bumps in the road. For example, on a day when I was writing about “Reconciliation,” I found myself on the receiving end of an unmistakable insult that affronted me. It doesn’t matter what the barb itself was. What matters is that it hurt and I was affronted, and this occurred while 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 writing these guides I confronted a dilemma and I was attempting to 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 intended to hurt you and 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 yes and other times, no.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 Christian, I am not given the option to wallow in it. Maybe cry and put a pillow over my 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 hopeful in these cases. 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 cannot happen. 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 general, at times banal affronts that assault us regularly, establish your heart in an attitude of grace and turn your face toward light.