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Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Blame You!

It was a familiar phone call. Someone phoned me to ask about a family matter. It started with, "You won't believe what she did!" He went on to explain what someone in his family had done that he found so offensive. He said, "I am so angry I don't think I can ever speak to her again." Clearly, he was hurt by the actions of the family member.

After listening to the details though, I had to prepare him for the fact that he would not like what I had to say about it. My explanation? Despite the fact that he was hurt and offended, the other party had actually not done anything wrong. Their actions seemed innocent and sincere. My guess was that she would not have even imagined that he would be offended or hurt by what she'd done. At most, she might be guilty of not thinking about it. If we wanted to be mean, we could say she was thoughtless. But then, I believe most human beings have that problem. Thoughtlessness seems to be part of human DNA.

So there it is, the sad truth - that just because someone offends or hurts us doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong. How many of us are conscious of that? All too often we think if we are hurt or offended or upset ... then the other party must surely be in the wrong.

But wrong would be sin. And the simple truth is that someone doesn't have to sin to offend us. You may have hobbies, beliefs, habits or other aspects of your being that I find offensive. But that doesn't make them wrong. It doesn't make you wrong.

I'm sure the world would tell us that what I'm explaining here is tolerance. I don't think so. I think the world's definition of tolerance including tolerating what's clearly wrong (sinful). That's not what I mean. There is something else that we must do with things we find offensive, but for which we can find no real sin in.

My advice to my dear friend? I told him I saw three things he could do.

First, forgive the other party. Oddly enough, someone else doesn't have to be wrong to require forgiveness. Instead, forgiveness comes from me to you. It's a change in how I view the situation. I surrender my right to be right. In fact, my forgiving you is really more about me than it is about you!

Second, we can explain to the other party how we are reacting to them or to what they do, like, enjoy or believe. And we can ask them to assist us with that problem. We make that all about us though - being careful not to even imply that they are wrong. For example, "John, I know you love snakes and enjoy them. But they really creep me out and I get very upset when I'm around them. Could you please enjoy them without me?"

Third, we can separate from the other party or their actions. In other words, we don't have to participate in things we find offensive or that hurt us. If John continues to catch snakes every time we go to the park, I can quit going to the park with John! There is nothing wrong with declining to participate in things that offend or hurt us. In other words, the same grace we extend to the other party by agreeing that they don't have to be wrong when we're offended ---- gets extended to us. Just because I don't like snakes doesn't make me wrong. And if I choose not to go to the park with John any more --- that doesn't make me wrong either.

So maybe there's another definition of tolerance here. It's called grace that Christ-followers automatically extend to each other.

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