December 13, 2017

Don’t Hug Your Hatred

Recently I read a passage of scripture that I’d never heard before. It was about forgiveness and extending mercy to others. While you will probably disagree with me about my use of the word “scripture,” I think you will still find it to be very good reading. And won’t we all benefit from a few moments of self-examination in the area of mercy?

It’s Sirach 27:30-28:7.

(30) Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. (1) The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. (2) Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. (3) Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the Lord? (4) Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins? (5) If he who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? (6) Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! (7) Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; of the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.

27:30–The image of hugging wrath and anger tight reminds me of a small child clinging to a favorite stuffed animal. The mommy may try to get it away from her to wash it, but the toddler won’t give it up. It’s her security.

On first reading we may try to pass up this verse. “The sinner?” we say. “That’s talking about someone else, not me.” Look again. Who is the sinner? The one who hugs wrath and anger tight. That’s certainly been me. Has it ever been you?

Oh, but we know we’re right, don’t’ we? When someone has truly offended us, God is on our side; if He’s not, then He ought to be! Like the little girl with her stuffie, we think we need our anger because it’s our security. We cling to it because it protects us from the one who hurt us.

28:1–This is a frightful thought. It’s as if God is saying, “OK. You want vengeance? Then you shall have it.” Almighty God remembering our sins in detail? What a contrast from “…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

28:2–While we’re remembering, do you recall the parable of the unmerciful servant? “His lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers…So shall my heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35)

But how can we do this if we’ve been deeply hurt? The key is in the master’s words. “I forgave you all that debt…Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, even as I had mercy on you?” It’s because we have been forgiven so much that we can extend mercy to those who wound us. This, in turn, benefits us with even more forgiveness from the Master.

If we refuse to forgive despite all we’ve been forgiven, we’re still hugging our anger tight. If I clutch my fury to my chest, how can I ever open my heart to others? To God?

28:3-4–What struck me here was the “fellows.” In another translation it read, “Should a man nourish anger against one like himself and expect healing from the Lord?” “His fellows.” “One like himself.” Ah, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? We perceive our enemy as somehow lower than us–less of a Christian or even less of a person. We conveniently forget that the object of our wrath is one just like us.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector comes to mind. “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people…” Oh, really? Since when? May we instead join in the plea of the tax collector: “…God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (Luke 17:11, 13)

28:5–“…No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19) Therefore, no one but God has the right to exercise His anger at our sin. When we who are but flesh cherish wrath, we’re putting ourselves in the place of God. And if we do away with God, who is left to forgive our sins?

28:6–To me this was probably the most interesting verse in the passage. How does thinking of our “last days…death and decay” make us cease from the sin of withholding forgiveness? For one thing, it takes us back to verses 3-4. The person who bears the brunt of our anger is just like us. We both came from dust and to dust we shall return.

It also challenges us to remember that we will one day face God. And “in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) Do we really want to stand before the Holy One and try to explain why we couldn’t forgive our neighbor?

But let’s not forget an even more down-to-earth, common sense answer. As Michael used to always say, “Life’s too short to…(insert whatever it was that he didn’t want to do.)” Your days are all too fleeting; will you choose to spend them harboring grudges and nursing bitterness?

28:7–This verse is like a coin; it has two sides. “Think of the commandments.” Remember God’s law–including (especially!) Jesus’ own interpretation of it. “…I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

Now flip the coin over and “Think…of the Most High’s covenant.” This is particularly interesting given the fact that this was written before the time of Christ. Even so, the writer says that recalling God’s mercy should lead us to be merciful ourselves. How much more should pondering the New Covenant help us overlook faults! It’s impossible to clutch hatred to your breast if you’re truly clinging to the cross.

That’s what Sirach says to me about forgiveness. What does it say to you?       

Comments

  1. Wow…..I think that I am reading this and feeling MUCH differently than I would have a week ago, courtesy of my discovery of “The Raggamuffin Gospel”.

    I have always been very quick to judge (with myself as my most violent target) and slow to forgive. I have had a twisted Irish pride in my ability to hold a grudge. And it never even crossed my mind that if I stopped expecting the mere humans around me to make logical, healthy, and smart choices……then maybe I could be allowed to be imperfect, too.

    I have taken a small, weak step away from my assignment as judge of others’ failings and sins. Th is will be a tough sin of mine to let go of, but I know the Lord must be pleased that I am trying. Forty-five years as Judge Judy is long enough.

  2. Wonderful commentary, Denise!

    The next Scripture that this brings to mind is “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Ouch. How many times do we pray this prayer and gloss over what it really means?

    In my own family I have witnessed an older generation of siblings who made the decision to never forgive one another for slights and offenses. Consequently, they lived a majority of their lives in resentment and discomfort. It was only until they “remembered their last days” (and I mean LAST days) that they set aside their emnities and decided to forgive one another. It was bittersweet, but it left me with hope.

  3. I need to run to work…but this begs a response. I’m outside the church but I am trying to figure out how to let go. Oh the anger that has built in me and has raged. Most of it stemed to bad church experiences and other expereinces. That included a Crusade director who later told me that it would be good to lose a job to teach me the consequences of sin. It also included an accountability partner from Crusade who I had for almost 8 years. The things I confessed!! And was told to…meanwhile he ended up living a double life while I got walloped. I’ll write later but I cringe, and seethe over some of these expereinces. I wish…how I wish my accountability partner would just issue an apology. Not a shallow one…but one that acknolwdges the deep pain I feel and the harm he caused. How I wish it could be sincere and that he would do it becuase he wants to. Instead he turned and withdrew from me. Our reconciliation was shallow and I leanred later on that he was not honest during reconciliation either. But forgiveness is its own beast…and many Christians don’t know what forgivenes is either. I’ll write later during my lunch hour.

    • Eagle, I have done some ugly things in my life. I can’t speak for the man who betrayed YOU so badly, but I would like to ask your forgiveness for the messes and pain I have brought into this world of ours.

      One of my big prayers is that you someday see how much God loves you, warts and all, and that you can forgive HIM for the pain and confusion His churches and people have brought into your life.

      We are screw-ups, but He isn’t. That darned free will lets us act like jerks while claiming to do God’s work….please be mad at us, not Him!!!

      ((EAGLE)))

      • Pattie you’re Irish like me and are family. 🙂

      • Pattie I do believe that reconciliation can be done. I had a situation out here recently that gave me hope. On top of blogs like the Internet Monk, Wartburg Watch, etc… and books by Philip Yancey, etc.. I’ve pursued some discussions with a couple of close people. We’ve had raw and honest discussions about so many issues.. pain and suffering, problems with the Bible, etc..

        One individual that I’ve explored Christianity with attends Sovereign Grace here in the DC area. I was in the process of ending the relationship with him becuase I was fearful oof what I was reading on the web about SGM from blogs such as Soverign Grace Survivors, Sovereign Grace Refuge, etc.. The last thing I wanted to do with my history was talk with someone from an abusive chruch. i sent him a text message after a conversation in a coffee house letting him know why I was thinking of pulling back. I so blindsided him and in a phonecall he was upset and deeply hurt. Then it hit me as to what I did and I realizd that I am the world’s biggest asshole. So while my family was out here in Washignton, D.C. I composed the following email to seek reconciliation with my friend and close the wound.

        Giraffe-

        I’m trying to figure out how to word this and to do so in a way that benefits you. Let me start by saying that for many Christians reconciliation is a cheap process that is really taken for granted. Many expect it, but few I would suggest really practice it. False reconciliation can do more harm and make a bad situation worse. And this is what I have in mind as I broach this topic with you.

        But I have been on the receiving end of bad reconciliation and it’s something that bothers me today. Back in 2008 my accountability partner from Wisconsin pulled back from me. I began to realize that he was not as truthful in the accountability relationship as he was being evasive. A year later Lion popped up out of the blue and wanted to resume the relationship. I raised the concern about how the accountability was done, and how I did not appreciate confessing some of the sins that I did and in return being deceived. He apologized and mentioned that he wanted the relationship to be like it was previously. In the process he said a number of things that I didn’t catch. Later on I realized that he was not truthful. Though our accountability had ended I realized that in my effort to preserve a long friendship had resulted in being further deceived. In the end the reconciliation process was manipulative and left me hurt. It was one of the many contributing factors that led to my loss of faith.

        So having been on the receiving end I don’t want this to be cheap for you. I want you to be restored Giraffe and to be healed. I’m convinced that bona fide reconciliation is successfully done by two parties. But the person who has been hurt will not completely heal unless the person who has injured the other atones for the wounding.

        With that said let me also state that I am still concerned about SGM. It really bothers me. However, I have wronged you in my actions and left you confused and angry. You have every right to be angry with me Giraffe. I alone am responsible for that anger. I am a fool and I hurt someone when I didn’t intend to. So this is what I apologize for:

        1. I’m sorry for making you guilty by association.
        2. I’m sorry for saying you were involved in a quasi cult.
        3. I’m sorry for questioning your intelligence as a person.
        4. I’m sorry for not raising this issue sooner with you, and letting it fester.
        5. I’m sorry that I blindsided you to where you didn’t know what was coming.
        7. I’m sorry that you were confused by me and that I started to distance myself from you.

        In the end Giraffe I care about you as a person. I don’t want this episode to jade or hurt you down the road. I don’t want you to be in a situation 5 or 10 years from now where you have an opportunity to work with another agnostic or someone else and in your mind you think, “Why bother?” “I tried that with Eagle and it didn’t work and I wasted my time in the process…” I don’t want that to happen to you at all and I want your faith to be stronger as a result of all this.I don’t want to do to you what Lion did to me. I want you to be able to move forward, not hurting, not wounded not in any state of disbelief or disillusionment. If the apology I wrote above was not deep enough or sincere enough, let me know what I can do to atone the issue for you. Giraffe just to re-iterate your spirituality and healing is the important thing here.

        Let me know what can be done to rectify this and make it better.

        Respectfully,

        Eagle

        And wih that I resolved a difficult situation!! 🙂

        • That was simultaneously the most obvious thing to do…and yet the most courageous. Sometimes as a pastor I’ve felt like a high school principle trying to resolve disputes between two people who refuse to let go of their right to be right. Often times in these situations there is real pain, most of the time its reciprocal just building up in a vicious cycle. The clarity, self-insight, and bravery to do the right thing is both commendable and rare.

          …now if I could only convince others to follow your example.

    • Denise the true test of forgiveness I believe comes with the hard stuff. In my quest to understand forgiveness and letting go I’ve asked people who have been harmed by sexual abuse or are the parent of someone hurt by sexual abuse; how do you forgive and let go?

      To quote Parker and Stone from the Book of Mormon musical most Christians treat sin and forgivness as this trite easy thing. You know…you steal the maple glazed donut in the kitchen that Dad told you not to eat and do so, and blame it on your brother Jack. That’s how many Christians look at forgiveness. This pie in the sky simple easy task.

      There are some things that happen in life that are cruel and unspeakable. If Christianity is going to be true its in these instances that i think will show Christianity to be relevent.

      For example…

      1. How does a parent who lost their son/daughter to a drunk driver forgive the person who took their child’s life?
      2. How does a husband forgive the person who murdered his wife in a brutal carjacking?
      3. How does a woman who has been sexually assulted and humiliated learn to forgive her rapist?
      4. How does a parent forgive a friend or sunday school teacher who has molested and sexually absued their child for years.
      5. I would be fascinated to know….but have any of the vicitms from September 11th been able to forgive the 19 hijackers for the pain and hatred they sowed. And the loss of their husband/wife/brother/sister/child, etc..

      Forgiveness is not simple. Its hard. Its the hardest thing I think most people struggle with. More so than lust becuase the pain captures and seizes you and after being hurt, you don’t wan tto be hurt again. Revenge is not good….but forgiveness is not easy either.

      1. Another question I have for you is what do you do when you attempt reconilciation and its manipulated and abused by the person who hurt you?
      2. What do you do after being pounded by that Pharisee who sees nothing wrong with what he did? How do you forgive someone who holds no remorse and does not intend to seek forgiveness with you?
      3. What do you do if the person who wounded you is no longer available and doesn’t want to seek reconciliation. Maybe its becuase they passed away? Maybe its becuase they are so full of shame they run form you? I don’t know….

      If any of you guys can answer those questions happy hour in DuPont Circle in DC is one me!! 🙂

      • Hi Eagle, you and I have “talked” via this blog before. I’m one of those who was sexually abused by my “Christian” father. When I first started dealing with this, the idea of forgiveness was repugnant to me. The idea of release though appealed to me so I was able to release all those painful bitter feelings to God. I really didn’t know what to do with those feelings and didn’t like them hanging around me, holding me down. so I told God that God would have to change them, if that could even happen. It was a slow process, but those feelings were transformed (or rather are being transformed). My father has never even admitted that he abused me, so forget about remorse and him asking forgiveness. But for my own peace of mind and freedom I felt I had to release all those feelings. And it worked. Or rather, God worked. Or rather, God is working. I really felt that all I did was to give it to God and God healed and transformed that hate and bitterness. Now, 20 years later, there are times that the pain pops up out of nowhere, but I’m able to again release it and move ahead in the process. My prayer is that you will continue in your journey to freedom from this pain you experienced.

      • I may have to take you up on that when I bring a group of 8th and 11th graders to DC as part of a civil war trip in May… although I do not have answers and am probably not the model citizen in this area….

        I will throw something out there though… I think personality has something to do with one person being able to forgive over another. That in itself could be genuine or a way of burying the issue – I don’t know.

        I also think we have to determine what we mean by forgiveness. It doesn’t mean that I will continue to be close to that person, or in the case of criminal behavior they should not pay for what they have done. And sometimes we have to go through the lifecycle of pain and grieving before we should ever think about forgiveness.

      • Hey, can we drive north and go to Fells Point instead? It is my old stomping ground from college, a million years ago when it was much more seedy and less quaint…..and I was an IDIOT of a nineteen or twenty year old! (To our younger readers…..legal age was 18 in the late 1970’s)

        Eagle, I can’t answer any questions except hypothetically, as the most hurtful betrayl I experienced (to date) involved being lied about and forced out of a job after a merger by someone who was threatened by my skills…and honesty. Hurt ME enough to send me to counseling, but a drop compared to other floods of hurt I know abou

        All I do know is how much I’d love to spend time with you, bring some of my favorite books, and talk. I do not think you need reforming, religion, or to find a church home. I DO pray that you find out how much God loves you, as screwed up as you are, just like He loves me, as screwed up as I am. He does not need any church or human to love you and hope you can just soak that in.

        The unknowing, evil, stupid or careless “religious” folks who have stomped on your brain , heart, and soul are not God…..and may or may not even KNOW Him. And since I profess to be a Christian and KNOW that I have been unknowing, evil, stupid and careless….not to mention judgmental, hurtful, prideful, and an all round asshole…….I can guess that I might have hurt someone like others have hurt you and driven you away. SO, I feel compelled to offer my apologies to you in proxy for those I have hurt and those who have hurt you.

        Forget relgion, forgive as much as you are able, tell God His friends are idiots, and let Him love you.

  4. David Cornwell says:

    It’s easy to say to ourselves that we’ve forgiven another person, then suddenly up out of the darkness someone or something comes to mind and once again we are remembering some act against us that closes our heart off from true forgiveness. Then we might discover that the goddess of Nemesis is alive and well down in that same dark place just waiting for the opportunity to strike.

    • David, that has happened to me SO many times. I hate it! I guess it’s a reminder that forgiveness truly is a process–sometimes a very long one.

      • David Cornwell says:

        I think this is one of the reasons we need to pray so often as PL mentioned above “forgive us our sins…”. And in worship the sacrament reminds us “this is my blood…” and that Jesus took even this incident, person, or situation to the cross and dealt with it there along with our own forgiveness.

        Thanks for talking about his subject Denise, one of the hardest things in life, but in the end it deals with our own forgiveness.

  5. Denise – this is timely… we are in the midst of a big extended family fight – which usually has its beginnings between my wife and her mother. This one has spread a bit – and each time we try to do something a little differently in response – well old patterns die hard in this family of origin.

    It is so hard to reflect on our own faults – I am usually the mediator – but this time I have also hardened my heart a bit – using words like never and always and you with such finality. My wife asked me the other day if I thought our spiritual life was hurting because of this (and she knew the answer) – boy, did that cause me to reflect. So with this iteration of family fued, we have both been spending some time with the Lord – knowing the time has come to right the ship, swallow our pride, walk humbly, and take ownership of our part in things (and say we are sorry for that part). Thanks for this timely piece.

  6. One of my first ministry positions was as a hospital chaplain, and I shared an office with – shall we call him – a cleric ‘curmudgeon’ colleague who was not very welcoming of a young woman fresh out of seminary (thirty years ago when ‘woman minister’ was an oxymoron and grounds to be treated with contempt by the ‘real’ clergy’).

    He confessed his grumpiness to me one day with these words: “…I guess I can be kind of negative. I’ve discovered that my anger is my ‘beloved enemy.’ … ”

    That phrase has always stuck with me. So many folks are bound by this ‘beloved enemy,’ anger and don’t realize how it cripples them, stunts them, separates them from God and others. So much of our relationship with our anger is God’s call to confession, instead of what we usually do with our anger – defend ourselves from self-doubt by cloaking ourselves in self-righteousness.

    Great article.

  7. I’ve learned more and more to let goand to forgive as I get older. It helps that I have a deep sense of my own mortality as a result of some health scares. It gives one perspective. LIfe is short and will end for all of us. Not worth it holding a grudge or living in anger or longing for vengeance. It’s not my place.

    Having said that, though, there are still a couple of situations with which I struggle to know where forgiveness ends and condoning of sin begins. These are situations where there has been deep betrayal and cruelty and where there has been no repentence. In fact, the people who committed these things have not changed and would in all likelihood do it again given the chance. I can forgive. I don’t cling to anger. I’ve let go. But the injustice and the possibility of further sin based on previous patterns is a concern. I desire justic, but have to be careful that that desire doesn’t morph into anger or a desire for vengeance. Drawing these distinctions requires wisdom, especially in situations that aren’t so black and white.

  8. I read this once and it stuck with me:

    “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
    ? Frederick Buechner

  9. Yes, forgiveness for deep offenses is going to be progressive. After all, we do have to work thru the finer nuances of what I call conditional forgiveness that still leaves me self-protected…

    I recognized the subtle, but odd, distinction when dealing with ex-my wife’s infidelity. She could in very amazing detail recount all the issues I was guilty of that negatively impacted our marriage. She could today provide you with specific episodes & when they occurred if you so inquire. It was these multiple episodes that indeed became the last straw for her. So when I finally decided to face up to my past & all the issues I had been dealing with, I pursued genuine reconciliation. I had pronounced my forgiveness for her decision to resort to the extra-marital affair with her married boss, but she could not ‘forgive’ me for my failings…

    She simply could not pronounce such forgiveness since it would mean she would have to be truly honest with her own compromises. So she simply said, “I’ve let you off the hook…”

    Er, what??? Off the hook???

    So yeah, conditional forgiveness that simply meant she didn’t want to deal with the past as she was quite content with her decisions & she didn’t want to deal with the theological implication of true forgiveness & then facing the challenges of real Christian reconciliation…

    We do the same with those that have injured us deeply. Heck, I still choose not to deal with my ex-wife at all. No contact except thru written correspondence. No family gatherings where she is present with her paramour. No desire on my part to interact with her. It was an emotional health issue for me & the one way I established boundaries on my terms. My boys know this. My family has no desire to interact with her either. My good friends that were mutual college friends have nothing to do with her any longer. The other mutual friends that she continues to interact with not of the cherished types I have felt bad about losing.

    Yet, the process still ongoing for me as I have to deal with the lingering emotional fallout that is the unique way I go thru it…

    • Ongoing pain and hurt – Joseph I pray for the both of you , its got to be hard.

      If there is any humor in your above comment (and I was not looking for any) it was the comment about her remembering every specific detail of every wrong you have ever done.Seems my wife has that kind of memory too, God love her – right down to the date and time. Is this a woman thing? and how come it doesn’t work the other way, all the joy remembered?

      • humor in my writing style??? certainly. if you have read any of my regular posts here at the iMonastery i can be downright funny at times…

        the shout out to me ex with the almost uncanny memory recollection was definitely facetious, albeit true…

        it is part of the coping mechanism that we resort to when justifying our reactions+reponses…

        she did not have to “forgive & forget”, simply let me off the hook so she could continue her 10-year secretive affair that now was being addressed after i starting dealing with my own issues. i told her though that God had heard my pleas for forgiveness & had forgiven me. as the old saying goes, she missed her window of opportunity & in so doing, despised the grace of God that was available at that moment to address some terrible wrongs & pursue a journey of healing, reconciliation, honesty, etc.

        • I am so sorry for the pain you have been through. I do not want to sugar-coat evil or hurtful choices, but may I say as a nurse that it sounds like your ex has a whopping case of narcisistic personality disorder (a mental illness). To people like this, they are the only humans in the world…everyone else is just a “thing” to be manipulated for their own pleasure…which is ALL that matters. Others are expendable pieces of a puzzle for them to manipulate, and they cannot feel empathy or regret.

          All you can do with these people is keep them out of your life. I am SOOOO sorry that your boys are involved simply by having her give birth to them. I KNOW from your tone that you will protect them from her without being ugly about her in front of them. Parents like you are unsung heroes, and it can be either Mom or Dad who has to hold it together for the kids. God Bless YOU and your sons.

  10. “Security blanked” is precisely the term for the anger we hold onto. Boy is it tough to let go, sometimes it takes a ton of faith and courage. It’s like trying to crucify yourself! You could theoretically nail in one wrist, and then…

    I love the prayer of the tax collector. It is my refuge when I am so angry I cannot talk to God. It reminds me of my guilt for the purpose of helping me find relief in God’s forgiveness. It reminds me of my continual need of Christ and his grace. Sometime you can really only have healing or justice/reconciliation, not both. I suppose God allows us to receive some wounds in order to cripple our ability to be grace filled people on our own, in order that we might turn to Him and find His strength sufficient in our weakness. This is the part about Christianity I sometimes hate. Resurrection is great, but crucifixion is no fun…

  11. I used to think that it was an illicit search for happiness that led to sin. Then it occurred to me that sin never really makes us happy. What we are really seeking is not happiness but our own will, however miserable it makes us. I first noticed this in children, who would rather forgo happiness — a treat, a game, whatever — than bow to a parent’s rules.

    It seems to me that the same problem underlies “hugging your hatred,” as you imply so well, Denise. It makes us miserable, it eats us alive, and we long for peace and happiness — but not enough. We want happiness on our terms or not at all. Daily I remind myself that surrender to Christ brings peace, but my “flesh” would rather have the mean little delights of sloth, gluttony, vengefulness, and lack of faith.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Denise — it’s a profoundly important topic.

  12. I love this reading from Sirach….with a little twist. I do not personally believe that we suffer “God’s wrath” or “God’s vengence” but the natural consequences of harboring resentment, anger, wrath, wrong-doings, etc. The natural consequence is a hardened heart and a breaking of our human relationships. When we let go of our resentments, we are healed and the people around us are healed with us. In the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer, this is said quite well, “Untie us from our own limiting actions as we untie others from the strands we hold of theirs.” (usually translated, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” )