The Fists are Flying: Now What?!?
Seventy times seven, while the literal number comes to four hundred and ninety, the metaphorical meaning of Christ’s infamous words is, “innumerable”. His response is a challenge to any person; to forgive, to forgive, and to forgive again. The actions that sting and the words that sear make a Godly, Biblical response the exact opposite to everything that instinct assures us is the correct reaction. In that moment, when tempers flare, when words become weapons, when selfishness becomes the passion that fuels the fire, the strength to put offense aside, to forgive the other person and to choose to live in peace with your brother or sister, seems like an impossibility.
Have you ever had a time when you felt like someone reached into your heart, crushed it into tiny, minut pieces and then towered above as they lorded their dominance over you and flaunted their victory in your face? Adding insult to injury, they took your pain and showed absolutley no mercy. Their eyes were devoid of pity, nor was there mercy or grace in its place. Instead, you saw only self righteousness, pride, unbridled emotion, and in some cases, pure hatred. Their hostility burned into the depths of your heart and their criticism was aimed to destroy your self worth. In that moment, what was your response?
If you are anything like me, your firey side emerges. The claws come out, the gloves come off, and the thirst for justice brings a stamina that poises you for a ten round bout. There is a passion that rises within and refuses to back down until there is vindication.
While the anger is righteous, and the desire for justice, noble, one important piece of scripture is forgotten. Vengance and Justice are the Lord’s. The Bible says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)
In many cases, like Christ, we are called to endure the injustice that is set before us. We are called to stand in the presence of ignorance. Often, a lack of understanding and wisdom drives people to respond in ways that fly in the face of love and honor. Setting aside offense, picking up grace, compassion, and mercy, we are called to see beyond the person that stands in front of us, and to have faith for the person who they are destined to become. When we believe that God has an amazing plan for that person, we have the patience to endure their growing pains.
While the process may still be painful, and the road trying, the anger and bitterness subsides as grace takes its place. Suddenly, there is a realization that the fight belongs to the Lord, and while He may choose to use you, the most effective weapon you possess is not the quip of your words, but the power of your prayers. No matter how much wisdom you have attained, perceived or actual, arguments fall on deaf ears. If a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether the fool rages or laughts, there is no peace (Proverbs 29:9). Your realizations and your understanding can not be embraced by that person until God opens their heart and makes that realization their own.
In fact, humanistic efforts to fight injustice will result in bloody battles. While there may or may not be victory in the end, you can be assured that there will be bloodshed. The price of that victory is far greater than you ever assessed at the outset of the battle.
Instead, armed with a new understanding of grace, we wage war in a way that is unfathomable to the world around us. Rather than being quick to action we are patient and slow to speech. Instead of insults, our tongues are armed with kindness and encouragement, instead of pride, we walk humbly choosing willingly to enter a place of submission. Instead of controlling and manipulating, we wait in prayerful anticipation and faith that the Lord will act. This is waging war in the Kingdom.
Living out this practice is not always easy. Many times, we find ourselves embroiled in a battle of our own making. Or, though we choose not to engage, we still bear the full brunt of our opponent’s decisions. In those moments, when our understanding of grace fails and words penetrate our hearts, sinking deep and creating wounds, that is the moment when we are called to step into a place of forgiveness. Though it is undeserved, uncalled for, and unmerited, that is when we are forced to stand back and realize that we too have received a forgiveness that was unmerited. Forgive as you have been forgiven. How many times? Seventy times seven. That is a true victory.