I read an op-ed piece in the Washington Post recently written by a woman who was sexually assaulted by man earlier in her life. What caught my eye was the headline for the article: “I Considered Exposing My Rapist, Then I Thought About His Wife.” That intrigued me in light of the Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the rage that occurred within the room and outside of it throughout the country.
The writer explained she did an internet search for her rapist with the intent of exposing his terrible assault years earlier and discovered he had become a successful adult with a wife and children. It was the discovery of his wife in particular that led her to reconsider her plan. She wrote that she seemed to be a woman with whom she could be friends, and she wondered if the wife needed to know about his past after so many years together. Would it be right to upend their marriage and family to bring the truth to light?
She decided it was not necessary and the cost was too high—for his wife and children. It was an act of grace in an environment of perpetual rage. I assumed the comments by and large would be harsh and unkind and they were because, particularly on social media, rage is all the rage. Women are outraged, as are men. Republicans and Democrats, left and right, are outraged. Minorities and religious leaders are outraged. And all have at least some legitimate reasons for their ire.
But where does it end? No one is willing to compromise or acknowledge, let alone accept, the possible validity of another point of view. It is “my way or the highway.” In other words, if you don’t agree with me, move on out of my life. You have no place here.
A few months ago, I saw my neighbor outside and had a question for him about our property line. What I didn’t know or expect was I was about to be ambushed for several grievances he held against me and my wife. In his mind, I had “yelled” at his best friend and complained about the trees on our property line. He let me have it and then said, after I attempted to explain what I felt were misconstrued accusations, “It’s done, and we don’t need to talk about it again.” He was not only done with the conversation, he was done with our neighborly relationship. Since then, he has completely ignored me.
I admit I was angry with him for a few days, but in discussions with my wife, I realized the only way to counteract his anger was with kindness. Otherwise, it would just perpetuate the anger between us. It is difficult to remain angry with people, if we are intent on being kind to them. And often those on the receiving end of such kindness have a hard time holding onto their anger. In other words, acts of grace have the potential of breaking the cycle of outrage. My wife has been greeting our neighbor whenever she is in our yard and he walks by. Finally the other day, she received a smile. No greeting, but at least a smile, a crack in the ice. We hope such acts will eventually melt the ice altogether.
When I peruse political stories and social media these days, the outrage is abundant and relentless. Very rarely do people interact in a kind way or attempt to show grace to those with whom they disagree. Yet, it is truly the only way forward if we truly want, as many people claim, a return to a civil society.
The Roman Empire of the 1stCentury was brutal. It’s soldiers often were violent against those under its control. When knowing that context, the Sermon on the Mount takes on a much deeper meaning.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.(Matthew 5:9-12 NIV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.(Matthew 5:38-42 NIV)
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. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.(Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NIV)
In reading these passages, Jesus doesn’t leave any room for rage toward our enemies (actual or perceived) or towards brothers and sisters with whom we may vehemently disagree. It is just not an option for those who follow him. Yet, in our country today, many who claim the moniker of Christian are joining in the rage of the era in which we find ourselves. They rage against the progressives if they are conservative, or rage against the conservatives if they are progressives. And each side is convinced to their core that they are right.
So where does it end? One side ultimately defeating the other? This is not likely if the last nearly 40 years are any indication. The perpetual rage will only continue. But Jesus does provide a way to end this, but it is such a difficult way. It calls for humility, trust, and the strength of God through his Holy Spirit. He asks us to love our enemies, those who are seeking to harm us and defeat us. He is asks us to humble ourselves and to acknowledge our own imperfections before we point out the imperfections of others. And he is asking for us to trust that he is in control and doesn’t need us to work his will. He will ultimately judge us all and he will indeed set everything right and it will be just.
The question is can we accept this? Are we willing to forego our grievances and live in obedience to our Lord’s commands? Are we willing to respond to wrongs done to us with grace and kindness instead of offense? Are we willing to do some very hard things for the sake of peace? It is the only way forward unless we are content living with the perpetual rage in our midst.
© Jim Musser 2018