Monday, September 24, 2012

Let Go of the Evil Person

Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "Indeed, evil can do only one thing to you, namely, make you also become evil. If it does, then it wins."

Some evils in this world are nameless and faceless.  People suffer with the calamities of life -death,disease, accidents, etc.  But sometimes the evil we suffer is at the hands of another.  Sometimes, we are oppressed by a person full of fear, full of venom, full of bitterness, full of wounds too numerous for even them to number.  They seek to punish us, to make us pay for ever crossing them; they seek to control us, to intimidate us, and often they are so good at doing it that they hide it under the denial of a smile and words that appear kind and genuine. 

How does one live in this situation?  When they've got you in a corner and there really isn't much of anything you can do about it, when they have taken everything from you and yet they still won't leave you alone -they still seek to control your every move, demand accounting for every action as if they own you and will make you pay for ever inch you move in a direction they do not like, what do you do?  The temptation is to hate them, to hate them with blinding fury.  The temptation is to call for God's justice to rain fire down upon them and to sit in ashes until (and if) that happens.

But Bonhoeffer is right.  If that is the final word in you, the evil has won.  Their venom has ignited only venom in you.  Their hate has resulted in hate.  Their desire to punish and control has only wrought in you a desire to punish and control in return.  For what is it that you demand from God and why do you demand it?  You demand God do it your way.  You want that control.  You have become like them.

This does not mean you should not stand up for justice when God calls you to.  But there is a vast difference between seeking to stand up for what is right and demanding to stop and control an evil person.  The former is about the activity of standing up for what is right because it is right; it is about the motivation, the desire to please God and leave the results in His hands.  The latter is about you, about your control, about your demand for justice, about you getting the outcomes and ends that you demand.  If you find yourself saying, "I angrily and bitterly refuse to happily live in a world where this person is free to live so wickedly," then you know you are being overcome with the very evil they perpetrate against you.

Only when you let go of control of them, when you give up the ends and outcomes to God, when you hand them over to God -then and only then- can you begin to see them in a different light.  Only then can you see them as the tortured souls they are, as ones for whom Christ died, as ones in grip of selfishness and evil.

You say, "But I can't.  God must stop them!"  Can you see?  This is now between you and God.  It has created enmity between you and Him.  You demand control of a soul that only God has a right over.  "But what of what they are doing and have done to me?"  This does not mean that their evil is no longer evil.  It means that you free yourself, that you shield yourself with good, and that you make room for God's wrath.

This is how you stand on the outside of evil -something Jesus was very adept at doing.  At Jesus' trial, for example, though He was in the midst of their kangaroo court and their false accusations He in essence stood outside of their little world, their little game, defiantly refusing to join in and play by the rules of the world.  The evil person wants you to come into their little bubble where there is contention and retribution and violence and control and manipulation and hatred.

As it says in Romans 12:

"17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When the Painful Demand for Justice Strangles You

People do terrible things to each other.  People can be very destructive, and that destructiveness fuels behavior that is abusive, seductive, deceptive, betraying, confusing, and cruel.  The most painful part of it all is that very seldom does the person truly see the depths of the pain or loss they have caused you.  There is often minimization, denial, mocking, blame-shifting, or simple indifference as they move on, leaving you in a heap.  They may play the victim.  They may focus on exaggerating your flaws or offenses as a justification for doing what they have done and walking away.  They may even deny your love.  After all, if you utterly hate them they can feel ok with doing hateful things to you and then walking away.

The bottom line is that very seldom is there a sense of justice.  Vindication, validation of pain and wrongs, making amends, admission, absolution, reconciliation -these things are rare.  And because of that, the demand for some kind of justice, for some kind of vindication, or even for the offender to admit to reality and return to you, can burn painfully within.

But when you refuse to let go of what they have done to you, when you refuse to let go of your painful demand for justice, there are consequences... painful and difficult consequences...

Every seeming success and stroke of happiness they encounter becomes unrealistically magnified and even more painful.  Suddenly, it feels like they are taking over the world and you are being punished.

Every minimization of the pain and loss the other person caused you, by the offender or by someone else, fuels a bitter anger that thrusts the dagger into your own gut.

Every person who loves them, supports them, takes their side of things, or celebrates their good qualities (real or feigned) becomes another arrow in the quiver of arrows you shoot into your own heart, another shot of poison onto the flower of your future, another bar in your own prison of self-punishment and aloneness.

And that justice never comes -at least not by this route.  No validation, no vindication, no admission, no absolution and reconciliation, no restoration, no peace to it.  The painful truth is that we have zero control over obtaining any of these things, and the more we demand to have that kind of control the more we will suffer.  Not them.  Just us.  They are not imprisoned until the time when we feel justice is served -we are, and that thirst for justice will keep us in prison for a very, very, very long time.  We become our own captor.

In the 80's movie, Throw Momma From the Train, Billy Crystal plays a struggling writer and bitter ex-husband to a woman who not only cheated on him but stole his book and published it under her own name.  Every time he saw her on television, celebrating her success, receiving accolades and praise for "her" work in the best-selling book, Larry would have a melt-down.  His bitterness was destroying him and his personal life.  It was like an infection, rotting away at his role as a teacher for an adult writing class and poisoning any potential relationship with another woman.

Although in his mind he was strangling this person who very clearly betrayed him and was unjustly enjoying the fruit of his labor, he was the only one being strangled.  He was strangling himself.  He was choking his own life.  His refusal to let go of the past, to let go of his claim for justice, was like a mill-stone around his neck.  He was drowning.  His ex was not suffering.  She was living the life, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Let go of the past.  It doesn't mean that what they did was ok.  It doesn't mean that the denial or minimization of it is right.  It means you accept that you cannot control that.  It means that you are ready to let go of your anger, your pain, and let it fall into the past.  It means you are ready to be free, yourself.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Do Not Repay Evil with Evil

"Do not raise your hand to strike. Do not open your mouth in anger, but remain still. How can the one who wants to do evil things against you hurt you? It does not hurt you: it hurts the other person. Suffering injustice does not hurt the Christian, but doing injustice does. Indeed, evil can do only one thing to you, namely, make you also become evil. If it does, then it wins. Therefore, do not repay evil with evil. If you do, you will not hurt the other person; you will hurt yourself. You are not in danger when evil happens to you, but the person who does you wrong is in danger and will suffer from it, if you do not offer help. Therefore, for the sake of the other person and your responsibility for that person -do not repay evil with evil...

How does that happen? Not by our giving nourishment to the other person's evil, hate to the other person's hate, but by letting evil strike out into empty space and find nothing that can inflame it. How can we overcome evil? By our forgiving it endlessly. How does that happen? By our seeing enemies as they really are: as people for whom Christ died, as people Christ loves."

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, September 03, 2012

Life is Short

Life is short.  Too short.  I realize it may sound like "worldly" philosophy to say that, but it is true.  Even from a Christian standpoint, we are exhorted toward what is profitable and good and useful and constructive in this life.  We do not want to "waste" our life, as John Piper would say.  Thus, Christians and the rest of the world would all agree on this one point:  life is too short to punish ourselves for how we feel about bad things that have happened to us.  How do we punish ourselves for it?  We ruminate, we obsess about it, we agonize and think and think about it, we bitterly dwell on the person who committed such a horrible offense, and we dream about their downfall, as if it does anything to them whatsoever.  We hold them in a mini torture chamber in our minds, but behind the illusion of their captivity in our own minds lies the reality of our own self-imposed captivity.  And we fret and frantically grasp for some kind of control, which only makes things worse because in no time at all we realize how prone we are to get hurt again, and again, and again. 

When our anger or sorrow about an offense gets to the point where we are holding ourselves captive, imprisoning and punishing ourselves with fear, worry, anguish, anger, and bitterness, we have gone beyond grief and into the realm of pointless, needless, useless, fruitless, self-imposed self-destruction.  We aren't stopping them from being selfish.  We aren't even changing the situation by our endless agonizing and ruminating.  We aren't holding them back by holding on.  We are holding ourselves back.  We are punishing ourselves.  We are stopping ourselves.  And the world, the offender, and life, moves on without us.

It happened.
You can't go back and make it go away.
You might not even be able to make it go away now.
But punishing yourself will do nothing.
Life is too short.

Don't waste your short life with this.  It is too short to not let go.  It doesn't matter how big the offense.  It may be something utterly unfair and terrible.  But your life is not over.  You can acknowledge how unfair it was and feel the pain and grief without punishing yourself over it.  The two do not have to go hand-in-hand.