It is an assumption we always make when we read bible passages about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and blessing those who persecute us. We assume that we are always the victims. When we read such passages, we tend to see ourselves as the innocent target to the slap or the accusation or the insult.
But the truth is that more often than not, we deserve it. At least I know I do. For instance, not so long ago I lied to a friend, and through that lie, made her an enemy. She “found me out” and I paid the price by not only losing her trust, but also her friendship.
Now, of course I asked for her forgiveness and repented of my sin before God. Ideally, that would be the end of that. But reconciliation is much more complicated, and much less Utopian.
Chesterton once said that “we choose our friends and we make our enemies”. While it is easy to see how this happens, there is something we deliberately make ourselves blind to — the fact that having an enemy does not always mean we are the innocent party. This victim mentality is a product of our sinful, self-preserving tendencies.
We don’t like to look at ourselves as the guilty ones. We’d much rather identify with David hiding from King Saul than see ourselves as the Judas in our story. But the reality is that sometimes (more often than not for some of us) we are to blame in our enmities. The fault is ours. So, how do we deal with the blows we deserve from an enemy we made? What happens if our enemies refuse to forgive us and continue to punish us for our sins against them? Do we consider this as persecution or deserved punishment?
And if it is punishment, is it from God or just from the person you have wronged? I am not trying to find a way around dealing with the consequences of sin. Forgiveness by God does not exempt us from the natural consequences of our sinful actions. We still have to deal with the mess we made. The thief may be forgiven by God, but he still has to do his time in the prison of men.
In Matthew, Jesus teaches a very curious principle, that we often misread:
“If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” [Matthew 5:23-24]
For a long time, I always assumed that this passage spoke of reconciling with people who have wronged me. But it actually refers to people that I have wronged. I am the guilty one in this passage, and I am the one rightly being called to seek reconciliation. Yet, what if I do this and the person still holds a grievance against me?
This is the time to do what Jesus did. He came to this earth to be reconciled with his enemies. Like Jesus, I have no guarantee that my extended arm of reconciliation will be accepted or slapped aside. If it is accepted, glory to God for a successful reconciliation. If it is not, glory to God for the attempt at reconciliation. The handshake of reconciliation and the stinging cheek of rejection are both acceptable before God (though unlike Jesus, I am the one who made the enmity).
When it comes to the enemies we make, we will not always get the reconciliation we want. We will not always avoid the consequences of our sins. But the good news is that you will have obeyed God even then. The liberating news is that freedom from the guilt of our sins is guaranteed. You can walk away with a guiltless conscience, not because your enemy has become your friend, but because God has forgiven you, and you stand guiltless before Him — the only friend (ultimately) worth keeping.
For the fame of His name,