Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Being a good Christian should be an easy thing to do. God’s unending love for me, which is so great that my daily sins are forgiven – thanks to the gift of grace, presents no challenge in my willingness to return it. The most charitable of God’s grace – Jesus’ earthly suffering, sacrifice, and promise – is a constant reminder that I’m not worthy of any of it…but I gladly, and humbly, accept it. The least I can do is try walking the same path Jesus did, when it comes to not only forgiving those who trespass against me, but to embracing the people who see themselves as my enemies. Easy, peasy, right? NOT!
Here’s a news flash: being a good Christian is hard. It’s the hardest thing I choose to do; it just edges out parenting (good thing for my children that I AM a Christian!). There’s so many layers and components of being a good Christian that I find very challenging. That “do not repay evil for evil” thing; that’s a tough one. I struggle mightily with the temptation to get even with people. Being a “woke” Black man in the United States is to live in a perpetual rage at the institutions which exist, in part, to remind me of my 2nd-class status, and to ensure I remain there. Whenever someone argues with me about Affirmative Action being a quota program, I have been known to take that bait: I enlighten them that it’s supposed to be an equality program, and argue that minorities shouldn’t be held responsible for the practice’s failings because corporations have been too lazy to actually implement meaningful fair hiring practices – rather than simply counting how many dark people were in the building and calling it a day. My father used to tell me, “Turn the other cheek…but remember, you only have two!” They throw shade at me; I throw it right back. Not exactly what God had in mind, I’m sure.
It’s so easy to forget that forgiveness should be our first response to whatever transgression is directed our way. There is a great deal of suffering in our world – much of it at the hands of some selfish, greedy, hateful, and foolish human beings. Let’s keep it real: people can suck! As a professed Christian, I probably shouldn’t be writing this, thinking this, or believing this…but I find myself confronted with Library of Congress-sized evidence of humanity’s depravity towards the environment, each other, and even historical fact. There have even been moments when I’ve been a should-have-known-better participant (yes, I’ve been known to suck, too; surprise!). It’s not 100% my fault; my whole life, all I’ve ever been around are people who have, at some time in their life, sucked. Today, I just try to surround myself with as many recovering suckaholics as I can find.
The best way I know to suck less is to choose doing right over being right. In our culture, as well as what I suspect is human nature, being right is the preferred outcome. Our egos dictate that humility is for the other fella; we must win to be of value. In every facet of our lives, winning is paramount. Some deserving soul is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize every year; that means, every year, there are prize nominees who are considered peace losers. Think about that. ANYONE worthy of the prize is nominated because they do right, but only one person gets the recognition and status for it; they get to “be right.” The desire to be acknowledged for our efforts, as well as matching our enemies’ dirt with equal or greater dirt, is what makes this whole faithfulness thing such a difficult cross to bear. Here’s the good news: each one of us are works in progress. We have an opportunity, every day, to perfect our humility: to quit caring about getting the credit from our fellow man, and to start caring about being a credit to our fellow man. Being a good Christian is the only thing I can think of where you can be right AND do right simultaneously. It’s a challenge to say, “Jesus, take the wheel.” It’s a bigger challenge to live like you mean it, when your focus has been on making sure people see you doing all the driving.
Benevolent One, I am thankful for your grace and mercy. I pray for strength and guidance to continue forgiving those who seek to do me harm and rob me of my joy, so that the spirit I invite to live within my heart will enter the hearts of my enemies, Amen.
Brian Foster has been a member of Saint Andrew since 1999. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.