I was recently in a conversation with someone who had been wronged in a very deep and personal way. What made things worse was that the person who had wronged my friend seemed completely unconcerned with the suffering he had caused.
This kind of thing makes me crazy. It’s one thing to hurt someone inadvertently, which is something we all do from time to time; it’s a whole other thing to hurt someone, realize what you have done, and then do nothing to make the situation better, even acting smug about it the process.
This kind of person makes it very hard to forgive.
Expressing feelings of pain and betrayal, my friend said to me, “I can’t believe [this person] just gets to keep living his life as if everything is fine. I mean, eventually he’s going to fall on his face, isn’t he? God wouldn’t bless someone who treats people this way, would he?”
That’s a tough one.
Most of us have a very acute awareness of right and wrong, which gives us a deep hunger for justice (as long as it applies to other people, of course). We also believe (correctly) that God loves justice. So we assume and expect that God will extend justice onto all those who harm us.
I’ve heard people say things like this a lot, and I’ve even wished for it a time or two. We see something wrong in the world, find a person to blame for it, and say, “Well, they’d better enjoy it while they can. God is going to make them pay for this.”
While I do like this idea (again, as long as it applies to other people), in Matthew 5, Jesus says something that bothers me a little bit. He’s talking about how we treat our enemies, and he says this-
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
In that culture, both the sun and the rain were good things. In a world where agriculture was one of the primary sources of most household incomes, you needed both the sun and the rain to keep your crops alive.
Jesus is saying, “Good things are going to happen to people who don’t deserve it. Your job is to be the kind of person who loves in spite of what other people are receiving.”
As much as I hate this, it is consistent with the world that I have observed.
Corrupt businessmen receive huge bonuses while those who are devoted to ethical practices are laid off.
Bad teachers receive tenure while great teachers fall victim to budget cuts.
Spiritually abusive pastors see growth in their churches while good-hearted and loving ministers struggle to be heard.
Mean people have lots of friends while those who practice kindness and compassion often feel completely alone.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
So if the point is not for God to dole out rewards for the good people and punishment for the bad, what is left?
The answer to this question is that we have choices about what kinds of people we are becoming.
To my chagrin, Jesus doesn’t seem to have much interest in punishing my enemies.
Instead, Jesus seems interested in changing me into the kind of person who can love even the people who try to destroy me.
Maybe that’s what Jesus means when says that the road is narrow. Some of the things he calls us to do seem crazy and nearly impossible. However, there is no question that these are the kinds of things that make the world a better place.
What do you think? Have you ever expected God to punish someone else on your behalf? Do you think God punishes people for doing bad things?