Responding to wrongdoing (part 1)

Responding to wrongdoing (part 1)

In ways big or small, others insult or hurt us almost every day.

Whether it’s a rude driver, an impatient client or customer, ungrateful kids, an insensitive family member or friend, we are wronged.

And we respond–in a number of different ways.  Here are three:

1.  Indignation and confrontation:  when the rude driver cuts us off, we yell at them (or mutter under our breath, if our kids are with us);

2.  Tolerance and understanding:  when our kids are ungrateful, while we may call them out on it, we may well overlook it, for good or bad; we recall when we were kids and how we weren’t exactly oozing with gratitude;

3.  Grief and pain:  a loved one–e.g., a teenage son or daughter–makes an incredibly foolish and costly decision, or continues with reckless abandon on a dangerous trajectory, and it sends us reeling, overwhelmed with grief and pain.

As we said, there are more ways to respond.  But of these three, which one is best?  most appropriate?  most like Jesus?

But before we answer that,  consider that these responses can become distorted, resulting in a confusing alloy:

1. indignation and confrontation can become self-righteous indignation and condemnation;

2. tolerance and understanding can become indifference and leniency;

3. grief and pain can become despair and woundedness.

In the pastoral counseling that I do on a daily basis, I regularly see these three “responses,” along with their distorted counterparts.  In fact, I see them not only distorted but disordered–i.e., expressed in the wrong order.

In response to a rebellious teen a father may (stereotypically) respond first with indignation and confrontation, while a mother may (again, stereotypically) respond first with tolerance and understanding.  Further, in the father’s response there may be self-righteousness and judgmentalism, while in the mother’s response there may be a leniency and overprotective enablement.

The father and mother will sharply disagree and feel very justified in their respective responses.  Who’s right?  And who’s to say?

Here is where the Christian Scriptures offer much needed wisdom by bringing order to the disordered and purification to the alloy.  Not surprisingly the standard for proper response to wrongdoing is Jesus.

After making his journey from Galilee in the north to Jerusalem in the south one last time, Jesus, having traveled the 80-odd miles by foot, makes the final mile or two, riding on a donkey, all in fulfillment of Scriptures, to announce publically that he is Israel’s Messiah.  Then follows one of the most moving scenes in the gospels.  Jesus beholds the city that would execute him, the city that “kills the prophets and stones those sent to her.”  He beholds a city whose religious and political leaders and common folk would publically humiliate and reject him in the worst way possible.  Could one experience a greater wrongdoing?  And in response–indeed in anticipation, what is Jesus’ first response?

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes.'”

In response to wrongdoing, Jesus first weeps.  He grieves.

Earlier Jesus had spoken of his desire to protect the city “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Lk. 13.34).  Here he laments that the city did not know what would enable it to flourish (i.e., have peace).  Jesus deeply desired to protect Jerusalem and to see her flourish.  Therefore, beholding her unprotected and doomed because of her defiance, he weeps.

Why is our first response to wrongdoing so rarely grief?

Turning from Jesus’ example to the example of Paul, we read in 1 Corinthians of a church deeply compromised by sexual sin.  Paul speaks of a man in an incestuous relationship.  Off the top of your head, what is the apostle’s immediate response?  Many think of 1 Cor. 5 and associate it with “excommunication”–and rightly so.  But Paul’s first response–in the form of a word of correction–is this:

“Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning…?”

Yes, the church must exercise discipline; it must not turn a blind eye to sin.  And yet such discipline begins with mourning.

But nowhere does Jesus or Paul, as they grieve, fall into despair.  Nor do they act out of any sense of “woundedness,” playing the victim.  Rather, their hearts are broken by wrongdoers’ tragic predicament:  theirs is not the way of peace, but the way of death.

Behind this deep concern for the well-being of the wrongdoer are two convictions:  first, the conviction that God has placed incredible value on the wrongdoer; and, second, the conviction that the wrongdoer’s offense is, first and foremost, against God.  That is, while the wrongdoing is truly against them, it is not primarily against them.  And that means that while the wrongdoing is against them, it is not really about them.  Such a perspective, while humbling, is ever so liberating.

Beautifully–and convictingly–this is how Jesus first responds to our own wrongdoings. So let the same be true of his followers.

But if grief is to be our first response to wrongdoing, what should be the second?  More to follow…

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