Over the last couple of years I have had my fair share of coping with different kinds of roommates. Whether it was dealing with a lack of privacy, a messy room, personality clashes, or cultural differences, I have come to understand that each of these girls have grown up in environments different than the one I grew up in – and there is nothing wrong with that. And yet, there were times when I had hurt them with thoughtless actions and words, and so have they unto me. Fortunately, even though there were apparent differences, God has allowed us to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, while being mindful of how to bear one another in love.
Sounds like a happy ending right?
Well, not quite. For as long as we reside in this earth, there will always be people we end up clashing with, whether we like it or not. And sometimes, we will be sinned against, even when we have done that person no wrong.
Path 1: Becoming Bitter
One day, my housemates and I had discovered that one of our other housemate has been stealing our personal belongings. Needless to say, we were upset, confused, and stressed out. We did not know how to handle the situation in a godly manner, so we each asked for advice and guidance from respected mentors. Although this action seemed outwardly fitting, there were still two paths that each of us had to face internally.
Let’s say my housemates and I are enraged when we discover that our things are being stolen; all we care about is being apologized to and having our belongings returned. Over time, we start harboring bitterness in each of our hearts.
What un-forgiveness does, is that it harms the soul. It acts like a deadly poison, infiltrating and devouring the way we think and act, the way we treat others, and the way we worship God. The book of James gives a bit of a wakeup call to those who are letting bitterness rule in their hearts:
“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” James 3:14-15
“Of the devil”! Surely, we do not want to be partakers of activities that attribute to Satan.
Embitterment will indefinitely harden our hearts toward not only the person who has sinned against us, but also towards other people. We become judgmental. We become cynical. We question peoples’ motives. We end up closing off opportunities to love. We become no better than the person who has sinned against us (not that we were better in the first place).
Even more so, our hearts will become hardened towards God if bitterness takes root. We begin questioning God’s character and His sovereignty. He is not present. Nor is He taking action. Or, because He is allowing this to happen, He is no longer a good God.
But who are we to think that? We can’t. He is the potter and we are the clay. Sometimes we have absolutely no inkling as to why He allows certain hardships to occur – but this is where our faith is being tested, this is where we are brought closer to Him, and ultimately, this is where He is bringing glory to Himself.
“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:15
Path 2: Becoming Empowered
What are we to do with the present situation towards the person that has sinned against us? Matthew 18:15-17 tells us clearly to “go and show [him or her] [their] fault.”
This passage is not to be read as though we should “snitch” on others just for the heck of it. We are to show them their fault – not in a condemning way, but rather in gentleness, humility, and love. The purpose of this command is supposed to be constructive and redemptive.
My housemates and I are still upset when we discover that our belongings are being stolen. We don’t know what to do. But this time, we realize there really is no point in holding a grudge. Over time, we see this as an opportunity to learn to forgive.
By nature, human beings have difficulty forgiving others. We have a sense of entitlement and would rather not let go of our ego. Galatians 5:17 tells us that “the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.”
We can’t necessarily “try harder” to churn out forgiveness, but that does not mean we should give up forgiving others altogether. We can pray and ask the Lord to help us in our weakness, while surrendering these kinds of wounding circumstances. We can learn to forgive others by first remembering and receiving the grace of God ourselves.
We can become empowered to forgive those who sin against us, just as God has forgiven and continues to forgive us when we sin against Him.