I am currently reading Relationships – A Mess Worth Making, by Tim Lane and Paul Tripp. I saw it on my bookshelf, and thought to myself that I was sure I had read it, but drew a complete blank on the contents. I must have read it, because when I then thought about posting what they had to say on Genesis 2:18, on man being “alone” and the meaning of “helper”, I discovered that I had already posted that here. (The book is not about “relationships” in any romantic sense by the way, but relationships in general.)
I decided to read the book again (though I can’t be sure I ever finished it), because there is a relationship, if I can even call it that it’s been so long since any sort of conversation, in my recent experience that is an epic mess. I don’t rightly understand how it all went wrong, and I don’t actually know what I did that was so hideous as to create the distrust and hostility and the manner of treatment that I have created. But, I must have done something, and all we can do is examine and hope to change our own behaviour, as blaming or trying to change the behaviour of the other person has no future in it. And while I don’t see a way that I can do anything to mend that particular relationship, as conversation doesn’t appear to be possible, I’d like to make sure it doesn’t happen again. At least. I also need to restore in myself some belief and hope that relationships are actually worth all that mess.
This book is challenging reading. Much of what I have read so far is about how we damage relationships with our own sin. But then there’s also this part under the heading What about the Bad Things People Do to Me?
The Bible is filled with examples that deal honestly with victimisation, from the murder of Abel in Genesis 4 to the persecution of the church in Revelation. There are countless stories of people sinning against each other. The New Testament is full of exhortations calling us to exercise patience, forbearance, and compassion, to revoke revenge and anger, to forgive others and love our enemies. The Bible mentions these things because God knows we will be sinned against frequently. Here on earth, we will always be sinners relating to other sinners.
Therefore, even when we are sinned against, we are responsible for how we react. This is the only way we can turn back the destructive power of sin in a relationship. Micah 6:8 gives us direction regarding our reactions to sin: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Why would this instruction be necessary if it did not presuppose that we would be sinned against? This is important because we all tend to sin in response to being sinned against. We tend to add trouble to our trouble! Some of the typical ways we do this are as follows:
I confess your sins to myself with bitterness. I can’t believe she did that to me!
I confess your sins to another person in gossip. “Let me tell you what she did to me!”
I confess your sins to God, seeking vengeance. “God when are you going to do something to the person who hurt me?”
I confess your sins to you in anger. “How dare you do such a thing to me?”
When it comes to the sins others commit against us, we tend to communicate about them in destructive ways. This is wrong, and it encourages us to think that our biggest problem is outside ourselves. The Bible reminds us that even when we are sinned against, ultimately, before God our biggest problem is still our own hearts’ propensity to sin. Even when our hearts have been horribly damaged by the sins of another, we are to guard our hearts so that we are not sucked into sin’s destructiveness. Being sinned against tempts us to sin. So our need for Christ is as big when we are sinned against as it is when we sin. The calls to patience, humility, forgiveness and gentleness are not calls to passivity. God is calling you to respond, but as he prescribes it. Holding grudges, becoming bitter, praying for vengeance, and gossiping are not methods that God honours. When you hold the perpetrator “accountable”, but not in a spirit of humility, patience, and compassion, you end up perverting the very justice you seek.