A couple weeks ago I was sitting in the library around two on a Saturday afternoon. I was minding my own business at a desk, researching for one of my final papers when I was approached by two strangers. Both men used their bodies and attitudes to intimidate and harass me. The content of what they spoke to me was disgusting.
One of them filmed me, while the other went on to tell this inappropriate story and ask questions about whether or not he was going to hell. He blocked me into my desk and invaded my personal space. All of this was a joke to them for more views on YouTube. To me it was not funny. As I was sitting there, I thought to myself this can not be happening.
After the incident I was angry. Why do I have to be constantly looking out for my safety? I was in the library not bothering anyone, yet I was targeted because they saw I was alone. Now I am nervous to walk by myself or go on runs.
On the other hand, I knew I had to forgive them. But that prompted the question, is it weak to forgive?
There is a very real yearning placed inside of us for a world that is right and just. As believers we are called to have compassion, which means seeing those who are oppressed and not only having sympathy, but also walking alongside and suffering with them. We are not called to seek vengeance against those who wrong us. In fact, we are to offer the other cheek.
Jesus commands us to do this so we can be set apart and people can look at Christians and wonder, what God do they serve? We are to love others as He first loved us and love our neighbors as ourselves. This sounds great, but what does living out that commandment look like when your neighbor has wronged you once, or consistently wronged you again and again?
How do I love others as Christ loves them, when they have made me feel less than what I am, a being created in the image of God?
First, we must understand vengeance is the Lord’s. I played a lot of competitive soccer growing up. Often my matches would become quite physical. If someone knocked me over by accident, I would just brush it off and move on. However, if a girl purposely knocked me over, you can bet I was right back up on my feet trying to knock her down. Not my best moments, but these demonstrate our attitude towards loving our neighbor.
Oftentimes we are happy to forgive and move on when it was an accident. We smile and shrug it off. Accidents are easier to forgive. Being specifically targeted, however, is a whole different story. Our first reaction is usually shock. Who would do something like that? Which is quickly followed by, “I want you to feel how you hurt me.”
Being on the receiving end of that “joke,” I was made to feel small by people who knew they were bigger. They used their size and gender to purposely intimidate me. I did not ask for it, or initiate the interaction in any way.
Yet, I was the one who got the fallout from this joke. I look over my shoulder and I am cognizant of the faces I do not recognize. I am hyper aware of who is around me, being more productive in the steps I take to keep myself safe.
Afterwards I expressed to my mom how I wish, just for a day, I could be a man. I wanted to make them feel how I felt. I wanted to make them small. Their sin against me was leading me to sin against them. My mom kindly pointed out my being a man for a day would not be justice; it would be vengeance, which is not mine to take.
You see, we all are guilty of injustice. At one point or another, everyone has wronged somebody else. Jesus, however, takes the guilt we have and nails it to the cross, conquering death so our Heavenly Father no longer sees our sin, but instead sees His Son’s sacrifice. In the end, even if earthly justice never comes, there will be eternal justice given.
How does that help in loving our neighbors? When our sin is nailed to the cross, we are motivated by righteousness to pursue a life different than the one we had before.
We are to advocate for the weak and lonely, as Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Because we recognize what Jesus has done for us, we are motivated to love and forgive those who wrong us. It is His love in us which gives us the strength to forgive and love. We cannot have justice without forgiveness. Justice does not come from a heart of hate. Jesus brought justice humbly and with love when He was crucified. He cried out on the cross, “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”
I am not saying we ignore injustice and use forgiveness as a way to roll over and surrender. No, I am talking about forgiveness we can only extend when we understand what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We know that, “All have sinned and fallen short.”
My forgiveness does not equate to justice. My forgiveness says, “You have wronged me, but I forgive you because my God is a just God and He has a plan and purpose for His glory working all things together for my good.” Forgiveness is seeing the brokenness in the person who has wronged you and having compassion.
My mom pointed out to me that those boys who approached me will either come to know Jesus and their sin will be laid on the cross, or when Jesus returns, He will not know them. When she said this, my heart broke for them. Yes, they scared me. Yes, they purposefully tried to hurt a stranger, but to not have Jesus know you is the scariest thing of all.
So, I did all that I could do, which was forgive them and pray. Pray for my enemies. That they may know the gospel, and change would fall on them, which could only be the work of the Spirit.
Praying for your enemies and turning your cheek is hard. But our God is a God of justice and His reign is eternal. One day there will be no mourning or crying or pain. We all will stand before His throne singing His praises, and that is where my hope is. Not in vengeance, but in the God of justice, who knew my name before the beginning of time.