Monday, October 12, 2015

Grace counters evil

If you have ever tried to "get even" with anyone, in either a good sense or a not so honorable sense, you know it can be difficult and sometimes quite defeating.  I know people who try to get even in the "good" sense of the word, always trying to repay each and every kindness someone does for them with another kindness.  It is like they cannot receive a blessing or be treated kindly without feeling like they "owe" someone something for that extended kindness or blessing.  The problem with living this way is that you never really allow anyone to be a blessing to you.  You are so busy trying to repay their kindness that you strip them of the joy of having been a blessing in your life.  On the other hand, to always be trying to get even in the negative sense of this term, you are living life with the idea revenge is your responsibility or privilege (right).  Let me just take a moment to caution us here - revenge is a dangerous piece of "thin ice" to tread upon!  It might look okay on the surface for us to pursue some sort of action against someone who we feel has wronged us, but just beneath the surface lies things that will entrap us and take us down in the process.  We need to be ever aware of this desire to "get even" because it can wreak havoc in our lives when we pursue that urge.

Dear friends, don’t try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, “I am the one to take revenge and pay them back.” The Scriptures also say, “If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads.” Don’t let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 CEV)

By definition, an enemy is anyone we feel hatred toward, are engaged in fostering harmful designs against, or just treat in an antagonistic manner so as to bring harm or unpleasantness into their path. Taken that way, I think God wants us first to consider NOT having enemies and secondarily to consider allowing him to be the one to take revenge if revenge is truly the "medicine" someone needs to receive!  Treating anyone as an enemy emphasizes this idea of hostility - something definitely far removed from God's grace.  As we were living as part of this world and apart from Christ, we were "enemies" of God according to scripture (James 4:4).  As enemies of God, we were removed from his grace.  As soon as we said "yes" to Jesus, we were no longer enemies of God - no longer in a place of receiving God's judgment and condemnation.  Isn't that what an enemy receives - judgment and condemnation?  This might just be why God tells us it is not our place to have "enemies" or hold grudges.  He doesn't want us being the judge of others, or condemning them for their actions.

I have heard it said that enemies are made - they don't just happen across our path.  Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend."  There is much truth to this thought - for transformation is what occurs when grace is allowed to be the "ruling force" of our relationships.  Enemies may not always be "made", because there are a lot of opposing forces in our lives which we didn't do much to "make". They are just part of living in a fallen world - a world given to self-pleasure, secret passions, and unknown evils galore.  We cannot always "predict" when an enemy will enter our path, nor when we will be tempted to label someone as an "enemy" in our lives because of some action or inaction on their part.  What we can do is count on God to help us extend grace when grace is needed the most, being the open arms of Christ to those who don't even know they have entered into a place where love abounds.

I think Martin Luther King, Jr., nailed it on the head when he said, "We must develop the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."  Two important questions we can ask ourselves are whether we exhibit the ability to forgive in our lives and if we reveal love in the face of anything less than love.  The "ability" to forgive is the "capacity" to forgive - to extend grace way beyond where or when it may be "deserved".  If I had a 12 ounce water bottle in front of me right now and began pouring water into it, you'd all agree the "capacity" of the bottle is 12 ounces.  You may be surprised to realize that capacity is just a term which describes the ability to receive or contain anything.  It doesn't mean we never "overflow" with whatever is put into us - it just means we have the ability to receive it!  In this sense, we can either receive negativity and anger, allowing bitterness to be what is contained within, or we can release and allow grace to be the overflowing energy from which we live our lives.

Grace is a powerful word, but it directly counteracts all actions of anyone or anything we might label as an enemy in our lives.  Those people or things we might want to form negative opinions of, or hold grudges toward, are not worth it because they are like putting a cap on the water bottle of grace!  It is like no more grace can flow in and none of it can get out. We need to keep the flow of grace going in our lives - allowing our "capacity" to be ever new and freely flowing.  Just sayin!