Our community was stunned recently by a brutal double murder. A 32-year-old man (allegedly) killed both his parents.
Because this is small-town America, many people knew or knew someone who knew the victims. But the person who has been on my mind is the “other” son, the brother who lived in another state and who first called the police department because he had not heard from his parents in days.
I know absolutely nothing about this family and their relationships. But I wonder what is in the “other” brother’s head and heart these days. How would you deal with the murder of both your parents … by a brother or sister? Stop for a moment and try to imagine this.
Now think about all of Jesus’ teachings about forgiving those who wrong you … that would apply here, too, right? How in the world does someone forgive such a wrong? And yet, that’s exactly what Jesus was asking of his followers.
What about hurts and wrongs and, yes, even murders within the family of God? Wrongs done by those who have been adopted by God, named as his children, and have one Father? If you wish, think about your own church; or, simply think about others who say they are Christians. I’m guessing all of us have sometimes been hurt or wronged by someone else who claims to be a child of God.
The truth is, the church of Christ is not made up of perfect people. We are children of God, followers of Christ, and the Spirit is working to mold us into Christ’s image. There’s you, the wronged party, and she(he), the person who has injured you–the Spirit is working in both of you. Is that difficult to believe?
Sometimes, to our shame, wrongs are inflicted intentionally. Sometimes, they are unfortunate consequences of good intentions. There are all kinds of hurts that happen between brothers and sisters–everything from minor misunderstandings and disagreements to, yes, “murder”. Tell me, have you seen someone’s reputation destroyed by gossip? Have you seen people driven away from a church? Have you seen an enthusiastic young Christian shrivel up before a withering, judgmental attitude of a “mature” Christian? Have you seen long-standing, hate-filled feuds in a church?
Just typing this list of hurtful things makes me cringe–but they happen. Such things happen, even between the children of God. Then what?
There is the well-known story in Matthew 18 where Peter comes to Jesus and says, “If my brother continually wrongs me, how often should I forgive him?” (Don’t you wonder what triggered this question? Did Peter have a lot of relationship troubles? Could be…I think he was a pretty impulsive and outspoken person.) Note that the word brother is used.
Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother 490 times. Some translations say 77 times. Regardless, I believe Jesus is saying, “Forget about keeping track, keeping score. I’m telling you, forgive him.”
To a church he had never visited, the apostle Paul wrote instructions on living as a new person in Christ. He said:
The paragraph in which this statement is found begins with Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves …
We have been chosen, people set apart, declared to be his heirs. I am so thankful that God isn’t keeping track of how many times he has forgiven me! And within each of us, his children, the Spirit of Christ is at work, molding us into what he wants us to become.
This post is already much longer than I’d planned. This is why it’s also a day late–how do you condense such a subject into a few short paragraphs? I can’t do it. I bit off a little more than I can chew…
I was talking with one friend about the murders and voicing my musings about the other brother. How would you ever forgive such a thing? “Only by the grace of God,” my friend said.
And that is the bottom line. Whether the wrong is small and unintentional, or devastating and deliberate, the only way forgiveness comes is by the Spirit of God, molding us, leading his children into giving the same forgiveness he has granted to us.
Scriptures: Matthew 18:21-22; Colossians 3:12-15