The subject has come up, and I have to speak, though I run the risk of sounding wildly impractical and probably a bit judgmental. There are no platitudes here, no sentimentality, but a sober and solemn challenge above and beyond what we can do.
Our Lord commanded us to forgive, and commanded us to love our enemies, and to return good for evil. This is certainly wildly impractical, and runs directly counter to the instincts of our fallen human nature, but Our Lord allowed no exceptions to His command. To fail to any degree in this, arguably the most important moral command He has given us, is to be in grievous sin. Now I sound judgmental. Believe me, I am not. I do not know the state of any man’s heart. No, I don’t really even know the state of my own heart. Neither I, nor anyone else, is really qualified to judge another, at least not from a position of superiority, but we are called upon to repeat God’s Word. In repeating it I am all too aware, as I declare in Morning Prayer, that there is no health in me, that I am a miserable offender. , I must, as I repeat at the Holy Communion, bewail my manifold sins and wickedness, and I must realize that I do indeed provoke most justly His wrath and indignation, and that I have indeed offended and do offend in the very areas of which I speak.
There is no option, there are no conditions, and no mitigation of the requirement. I must love those that hate me. I must forgive what they have done to me. I must return good for evil. Much as I may want out, much as I may want to hold on to my wrath, much as my emotions may desire the worst to come upon them, that is not what my Lord permits.
Can I do as He commands? Not by my own strength, not even by my own will. If the truth be known, I do not want to. Every shred of my flesh wants revenge, retribution, punishment. I do not find it possible to love as Christ loves while I am filled with anger, but my anger is there – and it is sin. Ah yes, St. Paul did say, “Be angry and sin not”, but that doesn’t excuse my unforgiving attitude – not in the least. If God’s wrath is directed toward sin, well, I should be angry about the evil that is done, but that anger is justified only if it is accompanied by real love for the sinner.
Wildly impractical? Well, certainly. I can’t do that, nor can you, by any strength that is in us. Therefore, in this, as in so much else, I am in sin. What to do about it? As I’ve said in a couple of recent comments, the reality of my sin requires me to live a life of deep repentance, beginning from the knowledge that I have sinned and that I will most certainly, if depending on my own willpower, sin again. Merely saying that I’m sorry is not enough. I need to cry out for His power to amend my life, and in that cry must be the plea for Him to make changes in me that I most certainly do not want made, and to teach me things that I most certainly do not want to learn, and, yes, to lead me to walk in steps that, on some level, I do not even approve of.
Our Lord prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.”
We pray, at His command, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”
There is much evil in the world around us. We have been mistreated. We have seen others mistreated. We have seen deliberate and flagrant opposition to God’s law. We cringe in horror at much of what we see and hear, but it is not our mission to punish the evils, or to use our own pitiful strength to drive sin out of the world. Though there is much we can do, ultimately it’s like spitting into the ocean, so laughably small as to be nothing; and does not Scripture proclaim, “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord”?
It is our divine commission to declare the Gospel, to lead men to repentance, to bring them under the ministration of the Holy Spirit, so that He may bring about a change of hearts and souls. That will not happen if we do not show the love and forgiveness of Our Lord as the nails entered his hands and feet, of St. Stephen as the stones beat the life from his body, of Corrie ten Boom as she watched her sister die in that camp, of John Paul as he visited the man who tried to kill him, of the noble army of martyrs, and of the great cloud of witnesses. We cannot. We must. God help us all.
Change us, Lord, even when it hurts. Amen.