The path through the valley of the shadow of death is riddled with opportunities for offense, anger and bitterness. The traumatic event or events that hurled the bereaved into the dark valley will naturally be a topic of discussion among those who love them, know them or have simply heard of their tragedy. In the midst of much discussion, inaccurate assumptions and misunderstanding invariably lead to painful words being spoken about or directly to the bereaved.
“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” Proverbs 10:19 [NASB]
The vast majority of those offenses are by people who genuinely care for and desire to encourage and support the bereaved. Many through misunderstanding or ignorance wound the bereaved by unintentionally speaking hurtful words while attempting to be encouraging and supportive.
Some of these encounters might prove to be good opportunities for the bereaved to gently teach the unintentional offender, but more often than not these encounters are best viewed as opportunities to assume the best intentions in the offender and simply overlook the offense.
“A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” Proverbs 19:11 [NASB]
Sadly other offenses may be blatant and willful sins against the bereaved. Throughout scripture we see Satan attacking wounded and weary saints, and those attacks were frequently carried out by sinful words and deeds of men. The world and even some in the church will present the bereaved with misguided counsel regarding the appropriate way to respond to these circumstances, but Matthew 18, among other passages, clearly guides us.
Even in the absence of sorrow and repentance on the part of a willful offender, the wounded bereaved can still find full peace in possessing an obedient heart purposefully prepared for and desiring the restoration an exchange of Biblical forgiveness would provide if the offender were repentant.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:17-18 [NASB]
Sometimes the appropriate response to an offense isn’t as easy to discern, though. We had one such situation involving some very offensive and deeply hurtful words. If someone had just told us what the person had said perhaps we could have assumed they had been misquoted and chosen to overlook it. But that was not the case. Instead we were actually shown a copy of the hurtful words written by the person. What they wrote was very lengthy, absolutely untrue, and held some significant ramifications for our family.
We had so many other daunting issues to deal with at the time of that offense that we never attempted to address it directly. There was no current interaction with that person so for me it was more or less shelved. I say shelved rather than overlooked because I was definitely not choosing to overlook it. When we participate in the exchange of Biblical forgiveness or choose to overlook an offense we are releasing the offender from the debt of their offense. I was not overlooking the offense, releasing them from the debt of their offense, I was simply choosing to not think about or dwell on it.
To my initial dismay, the Lord recently put me in a position that forced me to deal wth this “shelved” wound. I was filled with a combination of fear, anger, dread and sorrow when I realized I was going to have to interact closely with the person who had so deeply wounded my family and me. I cried out to God in my frustration and anguish for a number of days and He once again faithfully met and spoke to me through His Word.
“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9 [NASB]
As I read 2 Peter 1 (above) during my quiet time, He clearly spoke to my heart that He was calling me to overlook that painful offense. In addition to that, He was calling me to choose to have brotherly affection toward this person, and on top of that, to choose to love them. My flesh immediately resisted, but the Spirit abiding in me gently and persistently prodded me toward obedience.
Those of us who bear great sorrows such as child loss are acutely aware that only that which is eternal matters. As I pondered what the Lord was calling me to do, the Spirit readily reminded me that the extremely painful words that person wrote possess temporal impact, but they possess absolutely no eternal value or impact for me or my family. God knows the truth and in eternity, if not sooner, He will bring the truth to light (1 Cor. 4:5). My obedience or disobedience to Him in responding to those offensive and hurtful words, however, absolutely possesses eternal significance and impact for me and possibly others as well.
“Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, [but wait] until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of [men’s] hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 [NASB]
God’s spoken Word in 2 Peter 1 is perfectly clear. He has called us to not only have brotherly kindness and love, but to have them in continually increasing measure. As I purposefully choose to walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s leading in desiring these, He will produce them within me and I will be both “fruitful” and “useful” to Him.
In the face of the truths of 2 Peter 1, I was forced to choose between two options. I could choose to obey, surrender to God, request and allow Him to enable me to love our offender, and thereby be fruitful and useful to Him. Or, I could resist Him and disobey. I could choose to continue to store that offense away and be in direct disobedience to His leading me to overlook it. If I chose this option, His Word indicates I would most certainly become useless and unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would be “blind and short sighted” to choose this option, foolishly forgetting the incomprehensible weight of my personal sins that He graciously and willingly bore on Calvary.
That person’s painful words as well as every other offense we face are all part of the “momentary, light affliction producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). As we choose loving obedience to our Savior and Lord rather than the indulgence of our flesh we are sanctified and refined. Each time we exercise faith through obedience in spite of the cost or pain, our focus on the eternal grows stronger and more unshakable.
“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” [2Co 4:17-18 NASB]
As our hope is increasingly fixed on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, all that is temporal conversely decreases in significance. I am powerfully strengthened to obediently “let go” of even the most painful of offenses by the recognition of their eternal insignificance and by my consuming desire to be both fruitful and useful to Him.
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all [your] behavior” 1 Peter 1:13-15 [NASB]
In my flesh I could not muster the strength to let go of and choose to overlook that painful offense. But I offer up highest praise to Him that He who calls us to do that which is impossible in our power, is also He who strengthens us by His power to do it. He will strengthen us abundantly to do everything He calls us to, including enabling our wounded hearts to willingly overlook or offer forgiveness for each and every painful offense.
No offense is worthy of sacrificing our ability to be fruitful and useful to Him. If you are journeying a painful path compounded by offensive and hurtful words and actions, I pray for you as I pray for myself, echoing the prayer of Paul, “...to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col 1:9-12).
For more on Biblical Forgiveness I highly recommend Unpacking Forgiveness by Chris Brauns.
Artwork: Sarah Harmening