We have each been hurt. We have each been punched in the gut by some form of injustice, whether committed by group or an individual, whether intentionally or un-intentionally.
I know that there are Christians who say that we must immediately invoke the gratitude of Jesus' death on the cross as the antidote to our wound. I find that this advice vexing. It is empty advice even as it contains some aspects of truth. It is in the family of “forgive and forget” advice that does not honor the difficult and thorny process of dealing with hurt. At least I can say that that sort of advice has never cut it for me.
Dealing with gratitude and the cross in the context of ministry to ourselves and others is a big topic. Suffice to say for this post that my idea of Jesus is one who is active and living and who meets us in our hurts. It is this supernatural, pan-global availability of Jesus via the Holy Spirit was a primary reason for the cross (John 16:7 But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you). It is in the ministry of the here and now that the power of the cross time and space into the present moment. It is in the clear and present availability of Jesus in the here and now that my discussion of forgiveness and anger relinquishment begins.
Dennis Prager, a Jewish commentator, makes the observation that Jesus calls us not to be angry at our brother but only calls us to actually forgive those who have directly asked for it from us. There are some passages that speak of forgiveness as something we offer to one who asks us, and there are other passages that speak of forgiveness as something we offer to anywone ("...as we forgive those who trespass against us..."). Is there any difference between the relinquishment of anger/forgiveness that we are called to for anyone's offense against us and the act of offering forgiveness to the one who has specifically asked for forgiveness from us? That is an interesting question for another post. What can be said is that the common denominator in forgiveness and anger relinquishment is that we are called to is a journey of emotion processing that requires giving up our anger that must not depend on whether the offending party has repented.
The common denominator for any serious hurt from another that requires a serious act of forgiveness/anger relinquishment is that there will often be a long intellectual, emotional and spiritual journey to reckon fully and completely with the offence. There will be a long, staggered process to properly understand and put into words what happened to know with precision what exactly is being forgiven, so that the offense is understood in all of its dimensions. The hurt will be contained in our psyche in several pockets at different levels of depth. The exposure of these pain pockets will occur as we are continually ministered to by God’s Spirit and as we are placed under various stresses and pains. It is when these various pockets of hurt see the light of day that they can explode in our consciousness like un-detonated grenade that has been exposed in a mine-clearing operation.
Dealing with this hurt, as it is continually brought to the surface, is a long journey of managing wounded energy. There are bad forms of wounded energy, which include rage and other forms of malicious thought and behavior. There are good forms of wounded energy, which include compassion, passion, understanding and even a righteous form of anger. The nut-meat of deep forgiveness and anger relinquishment is the long process of letting go of the bad forms of wounded energy and the redemptive directing of the positive forms of wounded energy.
Wounded energy and the call to justice
While we are accountable to care about injustice even if we have not been directly hurt by it, being directly hurt by an injustice is an important way that God calls us to attention to care about injustice in the context of "faith, justice and mercy". To illustrate this in the context of urban ministry, John Perkins of the Voice of Calvary Ministry in Jackson Mississippi discussed the “felt need concept” of urban ministry. In John Perkin's ministry people with resources choose to enter a poor, distressed neighborhood, ie. the ‘hood, to become neighbors to those who are stuck there. As those who have chosen to live in the 'hood experience the injustices first hand, they are compelled to pursue justice for the inner city in their own enlightened self interest. The “felt need concept" is also about making the Gospel real and tangible by dealing with the needs that have been brought to the fore of people’s attention.
As humans, we live in the ‘hood of planet earth and the injustices therein. We are called to live on planet earth like those who have chosen to move into the ‘hood, as Jesus himself chose to enter the ‘hood when he became flesh. It is by “picking up our cross daily” that we continually own and re-own this choice. Like the wealthy neighbors who choose to live among the poor, as Christians, we are called to bring the wealth of the resources of knowing God intimately into the situation of our hurt. It is as we are hurt directly by injustice that we are able to feel the “felt needs” of planet earth in regard to the need for justice. This is enlightened self-interest for the benefit of ourselves and those around us to confront injustice that we pray with force for God’s Kingdom to come.
It is when we experience injustice that we are able to know evil on earth first hand and to have a depth of conviction to confront it and the compassion for others being afflicted by it. It is in this context that we can begin to give shape to the long process of managing our wounded energy so that God is able to heal us and guide our wounded energy for a redemptive purpose. It is via the experience of injustice that God heightens our need to fulfill our purpose and fulfill the calling of bearing His image. It is the act of trusting God that we enter into this calling, trusting that God will bless and harness all of the wounded energy that we have acquired for a good and blessed purpose.
It is in the face of being hurt, we have two-fold responsibility, each complimenting the other. The first aspect of responsibility to manage our wounded energy is directly tied to the moment of the hurt. We must immediately enter into a gear of operating in trust in God and giving up our rage and anger to God and to His direction and timing. We are to not return injustice with injustice. The second aspect of responsibility that we have is across the span of time. We are responsible to the bigger picture, and we are to allow God to use our wounded energy to be the engine of our conviction to confront the injustice under God's direction.
These two forms of responsibility operate symbiotically with each other. We are to trust "from the get-go" that vengeance and total judgment belong to the Lord. It is in the successful ministry of God’s grace and direction to our wounded energy that we are able to exercise the lesser forms of judgment that we are called to. As we operate in God's grace and timing in managing our wounded energy, we are able to operate in Godly wisdom and direction in the management of our heart and mind and our affairs with others and (see my post on judging).
Rage is crisis in the exercise of proper judgment in of the all realms in which we are called to exercise right judgment. Rage is a crisis in our sense of being able to protect ourselves from the slings and arrows that would subvert our joy and our fulfillment. In rage, the human self lashes out apart from God’s peace and direction, operating out of fear. It is in the impulse of rage that we have the impulse to exercise the sort of total judgment on another person that God reserves for Himself.
The beginning of being able to deal with rage is to recognize it as a form of fear. If we take it captive properly and early, we can present it to God while it is still in its “fear” form before it has mutated into something larger and darker in our psyche. If the fear has become rage, we must allow God to unravel it so that it is revealed as fear in our hearts, so that we can present it God as our fear and receive the ministry of God’s peace.
The point of God’s peace that passes understanding is not tranquil, blissful equanimity. Rather, the point of God's peace that passes understanding is that the peace is an essential part of our trans-rational ballast as we embark on God’s path to redeem our wounded energy. The peace is a "pre-articulate" part of journey with God, penultimate to the exercise of fierce precision that God would lead us to confront evil. It is in recognizing this that we can submit to God’s peace not as an act of “blowing out” in a Zen Buddhist sense, but as the beginning of a journey with God who wants to use us as instruments to confront injustice in the world.
I discussed forgiveness and anger relinquishment once with a non-Christian Japanese friend of mine who was still learning English. I was trying to explain a big concept in very simple terms. I explained that being hurt by someone is like being shocked by the electricity coming from a bare wire that one has stepped on. I explained that the generator for that electricity is coming from somewhere far and beyond that person. The process of forgiveness/anger relinquishment involves correctly identifying the spiritual source and putting the person who is the conduit for that spiritual source into perspective.
Forgiveness/anger relinquishment is the act of putting a conflict with another person into its correct spiritual and philosophical plane, transferring the battle away from its incorrect target and following the direction of God to enter the battle correctly. As we relinquish our rage and surrender our wounded energy to God, we are able to operate in God’s direction and timing confront the injustice as a larger philosophical and spiritual battle and let go it is as a "tit for tat" with another person. While "forgive and forget" is often bad advice, it is valuable in the limited sense that we are called to have the image of the “monster” as it has taken the form of a particular person vanish into irrelevance, as the image is juxtaposed against the truth, joy and wisdom of the Lord.
As we are able to walk with God to channel our wounded energy toward a correct and fruitful confrontation of evil, we are able to we are able to pray effective for the advancement of God’s Kingdom that will end the foolishness that we were subjected to. It is via God’s healing in us that we are able to glimpse how His Kingdom is being brought “on earth as it is in heaven”, and it is by God’s grace that we are able see how the Kingdom is advancing into earth. These moments of holy clarity usher the triumph of joy over rage and are landmarks on the road to the redemption of our wounded energy.
As this vision matures, God allows us to see how His kingdom is advancing into the lives of those who were the conduits of evil that we are experienced. It is then that we are able to “pray for our enemies” as an act of correctly applied spiritual battle, confronting evil in prayer with the force of passion, joy and clarity.
As the battle is a spiritual one, it is also a philosophical one. We are called to confront the intellectual anatomy of the foolishness of the ideas that caused or facilitated the evil that we experienced. As we walk on the intellectual journey of reckoning with the hurt, we are able to articulate the justice that we were not able to articulate at the time. As we do so for the defenseless self that we once were, we are able to do so for others who are in a position of defenselessness.
It is as we are confronting successfully on the spiritual plane and the philosophical plane of reality that we are able to be more effective confronting in the human to human plane. We are able to live out Jesus’ commands to call our brother’s attention (Matthew 18:15-17) to an offence without being in a state of sin that would cause harm.