Why is it that we humans seem to only respond to pain in order to change a hardened heart or a seared conscience? I had the unhappy privilege to watch an uncle divorce an aunt because he was unfaithful and would not give up his mistress (or perhaps more accurate his mistress would not give up him). The aunt and uncle had been married for twenty-five years and then he strayed. As the years passed he opened up to me about his mess and admitted that it was a big mistake on his part. He remained faithful to his new wife as far as I know and they made a life together that seemed on the outside to be a good life. Still, though, when he was in the hospital under medication for muscle spasms of the back he cried like a baby because he knew he had done wrong and felt he was being punished for having an affair and ruining his marriage of so many years. Some thirty years later as he was nearing the end of his life he confessed again his deep regret for having an affair and ruining his family.
What sticks with me about my uncle is that kindness from my parents to his new wife and him after some years of healing seemed to be taken for granted by him. Well, that is what I thought until a few months before his death he thanked me for not judging him for his mistakes and for being kind to his new wife and to him when others in the family rejected both of them. I was speechless. It took a lot of years but I do believe that my uncle made peace with God, although never with his ex-wife, before his death. He tried to reach out to his ex-wife but she would have nothing to do with him nor would she hear any apology or regrets. I wish she had, but I understand her pain. When facing my own divorce and aftermath I have thought a lot about my uncle and the mess he made of his life, how he lived for his own pleasures and how he suffered from the guilt of many choices in his life. I don’t want to live with any regrets and so I have searched the scriptures to find peace and to let pure motives reign in my heart. Here is what I have found.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22, (New International Version or NIV).
The book of Proverbs is my most favorite book in all of the Bible probably because I understand so much of it. As a young Christian I didn’t really understand this passage from Proverbs, not like I do now. I never thought of people as my enemies and so I envisioned some war-torn scene where the enemy is at my door and I feed them and give them a drink of water. That is not really the message of this verse. I like where the Apostle Paul quotes this verse in his letter to the Roman Christians, some who were certainly under persecution at the time.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21, (NIV).
Now the focus of what the verses mean begins to be made clear to me. Don’t do evil to someone just because they have done something evil to you. Pain upon pain does no good but get along with the ones who have hurt you. Living at peace is so much more enjoyable than living in war with someone. Let God take care of punishment and you will be so much happier in your own life. Be kind when given the opportunity and this will do more to tweak their conscience than any physical harm you could do to them. I realize now that the kindness my parents and I extended to my uncle and his new wife must have pricked my uncle’s conscience every time we visited them and extended love to them because he knew he was not deserving of such kindness. I think my uncle felt like my Dad should have taken him out behind the barn and beat him to a pulp and I am sure there were times when my Dad would have loved to have done such a deed. But my Dad’s kindness to his brother did so much more in breaking that hardened heart open because my uncle knew he didn’t deserve such kindness and love. I want to be like my Dad!
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:14-16, (NIV).
Imagine how hard it must have been for some of the early Christians to read these words to bless those who have killed their father or mother and put their friends in prison. Bless and do not curse. I think the greatest blessing we can give to those who hate us is to pray for them, pray that the light of Christ and spirit of truth expose their darkened hearts. Live in harmony with all people, even the gay couple down the street, the drug addict on the corner, with everyone including ex-family members. Don’t let pride creep in and destroy your love. Wow Paul, you sure ask a lot! How can I do this?
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:9-13, (NIV).
The only way to bless your enemy is to allow God’s love to flow through you to them. Why am I not surprised that love, sincere love, is the answer to the how. In our love, though, we must continue to hate what is evil but cling to what is good in all people. Surround yourself with a support system of loving Christian friends and family and church family because they will help you to remain faithful. I love how Paul ends with a two-word sentence, practice hospitality. Have people over, let them come and hang with you, cook them a meal, let them minister to you as you minister to them, that is what hospitality is all about!
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:8-10, (NIV).
It was the debt of love that made my uncle realize he had done wrong and needed to get right with God. The love my parents continued to shower on him had an effect of that I am sure. It wasn’t an overnight effect; no it took years for that proud heart of his to be humbled. Love your neighbor and don’t do harm to them. Love the difficult, love the unlovable, love the hurting, love the dying, and love the pain-in-the-neck one in your life because love is the complete fulfillment of God’s law. God will take care of the humbling, the discipline, the punishing, and the judgement because that is God’s job but not ours. We are to show love, God’s love to all people and in doing so we help prepare their hearts for God to do the rest.
I don’t honestly know if I will see my uncle in heaven. I must be honest in saying this but I do know that he began to attend a church and became a member and sought forgiveness from God. He waited until nearly the last moments in life to make the attempt to get right with God and I am very thankful for this. I hope he will be there because I wouldn’t wish eternity separated from God on anyone, not anyone!
Where are you in your own journey in life? Do you have some unfinished business to attend to before meeting your maker? If so, then I urge you to get it done. Humble yourself before the almighty but loving God while you still have breath and life because it is a gift from God and mercy is being extended to you giving you time to make things right. If you have been down a path similar to mine then I urge you to forgive and let God handle the rest of the story of that person who hurt you. Let it go and continue to love with God’s love.