Saturday, September 20, 2014

Always Happy to Reconcile with the Repentant

Work has presented a number of interesting opportunities to consider the relationship I have with other people, and to contemplate from this the relationship God has with us. People in a fast food establishment are typically not your smartest, most responsible, kindest, most mature, most easygoing or for that matter the most Christian people you're going to meet in life. And yet, because you can't run away, you can't scream in agony while on shift, you can't quit and you can't fire them, you're forced, as a co-worker, to just take it, whatever they dish out, whether good or bad.

And it is good and bad. Because no matter how well behaved they might be compared to others, they are still evil. And they are all made in the image of God, and able to do good, and are therefore likable, but even despite this, they may not know God and therefore they don't have His sustaining joy inside and sooner or later show you just how bafflingly unpleasant they can be. Because you don't have the opportunity to end it all, either by walking off, or by forcing them to behave, or by eliminating them from employment, your day-to-day life becomes a prolonged exercise in implementing forgiveness. You can't hold grudges, because you are forced to interact, and are therefore unable to cut them off completely and ignore them, much as you may like. And that also means that no matter how cruelly they may have treated you, no matter how disrespectfully, or ignorantly, or hatefully, in a few days' time they might laugh and be jocular in your presence, and you might tire of your hurt feelings and even chuckle, yourself. 

It's a strange thing. But it doesn't mean they were less wrong. It doesn't mean they are good people because you have to treat them as if they are. It doesn't mean anything like that. It's just easier to let things go than to hold on to them, because the sheer amount of insanity you experience at a workplace like that is too much to remember, frankly. It only hurts you to recall it all. Letting it go--forgiving it--is better for your heart.

And why should it be so? Well, aren't you also made in the image of God? I think that is why. I think our physiological response to being forgiving in an atmosphere where you deal with friendliness and unpleasantness on an alternating basis is part of the Creator's plan: we're made to feel better this way, because God prefers to forgive rather than keep score. And He has let us retain a part of our godlike nature despite the stain of sin, so that we are naturally disposed to understand some truths better not merely because we can understand it logically, but because we can feel that it is right. Now, we should never make epistemic decisions based on how we feel, but feelings can be an added help in giving us a deeper appreciation of something we already know to be true.

So I am happy to realize that I am readily willing to accept people who repent (admit they're wrong and change their behavior, at the minimum, but really with a view to conversion), with open arms, and forget the past completely. But whereas I now forgive, meaning not holding their behavior against them, it is impossible to treat them as if we have a healed relationship because they continue trying to attack and cause harm. All that I can do is guard myself against it, and be careful how I conduct myself so as not to provoke them or make myself an easy target. This is necessary because of their wretchedness but has nothing to do with forgiveness. But oh, how I would long for the relief that would come from them abandoning their antagonistic ways, and becoming a friend to me. I can gain a miniscule glimpse into God's astounding willingness to cast all past evil aside and welcome a repentant soul into everlasting reconciliation. It's so exhausting to endure the strained relationship. Now, I don't suppose God can get exhausted in the sense of getting weakened, like us. But He sure must have a limit beyond which He will "tire" of being fed up with the nonsense. And I suppose that's one reason for both Hell and the fact that this world will last for such a short time compared to eternity. There's a real feeling of wanting to experience the relief and joy of having nothing but healthy relationships, with none of the interpersonal drama of Christless souls infecting the experience of life.

And after all, 
Who are you to settle scores? Don’t you realize that the deeper you fathom God’s grace, the more you’re conscious of your sinfulness. Not because God condemns you, but because He lavishes kindness on you. And so if you respond better to God when shown grace rather than judgment, however well deserved, don’t you think people who are your personal antagonists would respond better if you show grace rather than heap judgment? You can’t deny truth, but you shouldn’t have any motivation to pursue setting the record straight or making sure they know how wrong they were.
That was my original thought that led to the post. And it provides a neat theological angle to wrap up the reason for why being willing to reconcile is better than keeping track of why a person doesn't deserve it. They'll never deserve being treated with respect, by their actions. Their behavior is not the basis for how we treat them. God is our basis. And we try to treat them the way God has treated us, because we know that every human, no matter how wretched, is made in God's image, and therefore our behavior toward them will influence our relationship with God.

As perhaps this posting helps to show.

~ Rak Chazak

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