Do you remember the show "What Would You Do?" from ABC? Hosted by John Quinones, this show would use hidden cameras to "observe how ordinary people behave" when they are confronted with dilemmas that require them either to take action or to walk by and mind their own business. Various scenarios are created that force people to make split-second (and often surprising) decisions to see if different reactions are elicited. The whole point was to get people to think about how they would handle these situations the next time they were in them.
I am currently reading a book that made me think about that today. The book is called The Good and Beautiful Community, by James Bryan Smith. As he makes the case for what it takes to build that kind of Godly community, he wrote a chapter on forgiveness. He presented the following scenario (I changed the names) to make the reader think about forgiveness - he focused on why we should do it, how we should do it, and what kind of outcome(s) it should bring. Here is the scenario he wrote about, and as you read it, I want you to think about "What You Would Do".
*Scenario: Lisa walked over to Jenny, who is sitting with 3 other women in the middle of a conversation. As they all look up, Lisa interrupts them and says to Jenny "I'm sorry I hurt you by saying those things about you, but..." The other women awkwardly lower their heads because of this uncomfortable exchange. Lisa has just blurted out some very personal stuff, and feels better now that she's gotten it out in the open. Jenny is now embarrassed because what should have been done in private has now become public. So, what would you do if you were Lisa...or Jenny...or one of the other women?!?
All of this had me running to the Bible this morning to read what God has to say about it. As I thought about this scenario listed above, I didn't have to look very long before I found answers on how to approach it:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along...If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or tax collector." (Matthew 18:15-17)
When Dr. Smith wrote about the incident above, he chastised the "Lisa" in the story for the way she handled it. At first glance, Lisa did the right thing by going to Jenny in person. Some people would think that she should be praised for this. They might talk about how she handled this in a Godly way, because she didn't hold it in or ignore it. They might even try to emulate her for handling this so righteously. But here is where she handled it wrong: Lisa apologized to Jenny, but she did it with other people around. Also, she apologized, BUT sought to justify her actions because of something she felt Jenny had done. Anytime we start to ask for forgiveness and then try to justify our actions by focusing on what the other person did, that's where WE go wrong.
I do see the importance of making every effort to keep unity and not letting the sun go down on our anger (Ephesians 4), but sometimes we have to think about the best way to accomplish that. When I'm burdened by guilt or remorse or shame because of what I've done to someone else, I should want to take care of that as soon as possible. But, I should also do what I can to try to restore that relationship - starting with how I approach the person I have wronged. I know I've been guilty of this before, and just blurting out my wrong doesn't make the wrong right. I may have gotten it off of my chest and I feel better, but what about the person on the receiving end? Did I stop to think about how it might make them feel? Did I give them a chance to ask why I said or did that thing to hurt them? And, did I really care about making things right with them, or just getting rid of the guilt I feel for hurting them?
When there is a rift between us and someone else, it really is important to think about whether this is (just) a personality conflict or if they sinned against us. If it's a personality conflict, then decide what boundaries might need to be in place in the future when it comes to dealing with this person. But, if they have sinned against you, Jesus leaves no doubt about what we should do...go to them, but just them. Don't take an entourage, a platoon of soldiers ready to fight for your side, or weapons that you are ready to aim and fire at them if you don't like how they respond. And if that doesn't work, then get some other people involved.
If we Christians would handle conflict this way, it would definitely strengthen the bond we have with each other. It would move us to fight for healing and restoration and reconciliation within the Body of Christ, and what an example that would be to the world! Knowing what you would do in these situations can seem so complex, but Jesus offers us a simple solution - go to them wherever they are with the hope of forgiveness taking place. Isn't that what He did for us?!?
As you pray this week, think about the relationships you have with other people. God will bring people to your mind, and then think about who they are and what they mean to you, and ask God to show you if there is anything you've done to hurt them. If He points something out to you, you don't have to ponder "what you would do" because He has already told you what to do. Go to Him and make it right, and then show that you want to make it right by going to them. And then trust Him to help you make things right between you and them.