Payback is easy. If you hurt me, my emergency fail-safe tactic is a giant steel wall that thuds to the ground between me and you. My response to pain inflicted by others is charitable to an extent. But at some point, I will draw a line and say, “No more, this isn’t worth it, I’m out, it’s your loss.”
I’m sure, if you’re reading this, you’ve reached a similar breaking point in your life. Maybe you don’t put up a wall to “get back” at the pain you feel, but you have some sort of emergency response to pain. You might flee from pain caused by another, hiding from them or trying to please them so you can pretend the pain isn’t there. You might build up a system of what is “right” and “wrong” and demand that others surrender to your beliefs lest they are written up as “sinners” in your book of “righteousness.” You could manipulate someone using your emotions or words, taint their reputation by getting others on your side, say things that are only true in part, cause dissension, threaten bigger retributions, or an endless amount of other sins. And all of that in the name of balancing the scales of self-protection.
Dear friends, that is easy. Being a sinner who deceives, insults, threatens, and does what is evil and unrighteous is simple. You don’t have to work hard to become an expert in sin. It is 100% organic - no modifications to our condition are required to produce sinful behavior (Psalm 51:5).
We can try, but it is difficult (nay, impossible) to perfectly bear the sins of others. We may have some tolerance at a base level, but at some point, we will inevitably hurt the ones we love as an eruption of the sin inside us and the hurt done to us.
We wound each other when we feel our actions are justified, even on our best days.
So, for the Christian, we fall to our knees and beg for the Savior’s help. At least that’s where I find myself these days. I am more aware of my propensity to self-protect than ever before. I will try to bear with my brothers and sisters. I will try, with all my might, to bear their sin. When I am hurt by a member of the Body of Christ, I desire to forgive, to forget, to bear it. But when sin done to me or done to others feels unforgivable, unforgettable, unbearable, I have nowhere else to turn but Jesus.
“For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Oh, how desperate is my need for Christ. Often I will try to bear the sins of friends without once looking to Jesus. I will determine that my shoulders are strong enough to carry sin and my heart soft enough to forgive it. And then I will be astonished when I feel overwhelmed and hurt beyond repair! If I would just look to Jesus. If I would only see Him and his wounds. If I would only remember that my tendency is to insult when insulted, to threaten when suffering. But He was perfect, and He knew that I was not. Jesus knew that if I were ever to “live to righteousness” in this world, I needed Him to do it first.
I must fear the Lord, trusting that He is the perfect upholder of justice. Through Jesus’ wounds, I can “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:11-14, 1 Peter 3:10-12).
We need Jesus to help us bear the sins of others. We also need Him when we cannot bear it any longer. We need Him when we find ourselves well beyond the breaking point. I’m not sure what your relationships look like, or what hurt you have endured. My guess is there is a relationship in your life now, or one from the past, where you could not bear the sin inflicted on you any longer. Have you forgiven a friend for being selfish and inconsiderate countless times, only to see no repentance on their part? Have you stayed committed to a romantic relationship, only to have their hands or their words leave abusive scars on your body and soul? Have you tried to share your concerns with church leaders, only to have the finger pointed back at you? Have you reached a point beyond the breaking point where you’ve done all you can to bear sin, and it is not possible to live at peace anymore?
“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord. But ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.” (Romans 12:18-20).
What do we do when we cannot live at peace with everyone? We still do not repay evil for evil. We still follow in the footsteps of our Lord and trust His wounds to heal our pain. I believe we can (and should, especially in the case of abuse), detach ourselves from relationships that are causing us more pain than we can bear. Even if we must step away from a relationship, we still must look to God, who cares about justice with a depth unmatched. We look to Him to help us love our enemies, to protect us from bitterness or hatred.
This is the path that looks like insanity to the world. Bearing the sins of one another in daily life, and even if we cannot maintain a relationship any longer, still loving and forgiving those who hurt us. This narrow way is much more difficult. This path void of retribution comes with suffering like the Savior, who took the retribution of the world on Himself. He bore more sin and more injustice than anyone could imagine. The only ever Perfect Man bore the sins of his disciples, who turned away from Him in His hour of need. The One who died for crimes He did not commit forgave those who murdered Him. The Holy God of the universe who could crush all humanity for their countless sins took the punishment on Himself. We all need Jesus.
“Now I say, “Glory! Hallelujah!” I’m so glad to be redeemed!
To be so desperate for Jesus and so gloriously weak,
I do not ever want to stray from the Community of Need,
O may I never leave dependence or forsake my Food and Drink,
I need Jesus. Oh, I need Jesus. I need Jesus. Oh, I need Jesus.” - Nathan Partain