Any group of dis­ci­ples who becomes seri­ous about lov­ing and car­ing has to deal with hurt­ing and for­giv­ing. This is the agony and the ecsta­sy of any real group expe­ri­ence. Human beings are such that life togeth­er always involves them in hurt­ing one anoth­er in some way. Peo­ple may want to dis­be­lieve this, but even a brief expo­sure to real vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty will tes­ti­fy that it is so.

In a des­per­ate scram­ble to avoid this fact of life, peo­ple will remain dis­tant and super­fi­cial with every­one. They will run to oth­er church­es or groups at the first sign of dif­fer­ences. They will clam up in a tight lit­tle shell that does not know how to cry… or laugh. Such a flight from real­i­ty is not life but death. 

In anoth­er attempt to dodge this truth of human exis­tence, some feel that if they could just become good enough, they would not hurt peo­ple any more. Yet in this world our very good­ness will hurt peo­ple. Wit­ness Jesus: his rec­ti­tude, by its very nature, threw the reli­gious estab­lish­ment into a tailspin. 

If we want life, we must be pre­pared to hurt and be hurt. We sim­ply must make peace with this fact. Once we accept this as a true per­cep­tion into life togeth­er,” we can exert our ener­gies learn­ing how to deal with it, rather than attempt­ing to avoid it. 

Hav­ing once under­stood and accept­ed hurt as a fact of life, we are set free to see that it is all right to be hurt. Hurt­ing is a nor­mal and accept­able human experience. 

Because peo­ple refuse to believe this, they have devel­oped the reli­gion of the stiff upper lip. Out­ward­ly, they appear to be in com­plete con­trol, ful­ly able to han­dle all con­tin­gen­cies. They do not hurt, not them! They just devel­op ulcers, have heart attacks, and die of cancer. 

Spir­i­tu­al per­sons are espe­cial­ly hurt and hurt­ful. This is because they are more free than oth­ers to risk vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Car­ing and lov­ing for

them is not an option but a neces­si­ty, a voca­tion. Jesus hurt, hurt deeply. The stiff upper lip is not a sign of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, but arro­gance. The great stone face” does not depict god­li­ness, but pride. 


For­giv­ing is essen­tial in a com­mu­ni­ty of hurt and hurt­ful per­sons. There is, how­ev­er, such a total cul­tur­al con­fu­sion about what con­sti­tutes for­give­ness, that we must dis­pel our fal­la­cious notions before we can ever come to view for­give­ness as a good thing. Four things are often mis­tak­en for forgiveness. 

First, we tend to con­fuse for­give­ness with a spir­it of indif­fer­ence, the pre­tense that it does not mat­ter. Oh, that is all right; it real­ly did not hurt me any­way!” That is not for­giv­ing, it is lying. The truth is that these things mat­ter a great deal and it does not help to avoid the issue. 

Sec­ond, there is the mis­tak­en idea that to for­give is to cease from hurt­ing. Some feel that if they con­tin­ue to hurt they have not real­ly for­giv­en the oth­er per­son. And they will con­demn and fla­gel­late them­selves for their hard­heart­ed­ness. It is sim­ply not true that the act of for­giv­ing nec­es­sar­i­ly eras­es the hurt. Hurt­ing is not evil. We may hurt for a long time to come. 

Third, many would have us believe that in order to for­give, we must for­get. But this is not the case. To erase the mem­o­ry would do vio­lence to the human per­son­al­i­ty. We will remem­ber but we will no longer need or desire to use the mem­o­ry against oth­ers. The mem­o­ry remains, the vin­dic­tive­ness leaves. 

Fourth, we trick our­selves into believ­ing that to for­give means that the rela­tion­ship can be just the same as before the offense. We might just as well make peace with the fact that the rela­tion­ship will nev­er be the same again. By the grace of God, it can be a hun­dred times bet­ter, but it will nev­er be the same. We destroy our­selves and all those around us when we pre­tend that things are just the same as before.

The Rule of Christ 

Jesus set forth the way by which gen­uine for­give­ness can come into the com­mu­ni­ty with­out destroy­ing it. The key prin­ci­ple is found in the heart of that mem­o­rable chap­ter on for­give­ness, Matthew 18. First, we are urged to go direct­ly to the offend­ed or offend­ing par­ty. But we can­not seem to do this. We play a lit­tle game by say­ing, I don’t want to hurt their feel­ings, so out of love I will not speak to them. Noth­ing real­ly hap­pened any­way.” That is a lie. Love and lies do not mix. 

And what is the pur­pose of our going to them? It is not to accuse or to cor­rect, but to care for the per­son as a mem­ber of the body of Christ. To fail to con­front is to fail to care. To care is to have feel­ings, to be angry, to be hurt, to expe­ri­ence pain. It is not wrong to have tough feel­ings nor to express them. 

If the issue is not set­tled, we are urged to take two or three dis­ci­ples with us who can be trust­ed and who are known for their dis­cern­ment and empa­thy. When done in com­pas­sion, there is hard­ly a case where the prob­lem is not resolved. 

In the rarest sit­u­a­tion, one fur­ther step is need­ed. We are to come with our con­cern to the entire com­mu­ni­ty. Now, we will nev­er be able to believe that this is a good thing until we under­stand that Jesus was refer­ring to a kind of com­mu­ni­ty which is sel­dom found in church­es today. He was speak­ing of a com­mu­ni­ty built on and sat­u­rat­ed with a deep sense of trust. It is the kind of trust that knows that when we have opened our hearts before this group, we have reached out to the high­est expres­sion of God’s grace. There is no oth­er place to go, there is no high­er court of appeal.

The high adven­ture of lov­ing and car­ing will plunge us into the agony and sweep us into the ecsta­sy. If we choose life, there is no oth­er way. He whose wounds sig­nal both hurt and for­give­ness will go with us through the depths as well as the heights.

Faith at Work May/​June 1979

Originally published April 1979

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