Sweeter than Revenge

nail-in-handWhat’s wrong with wanting revenge? Isn’t revenge merely the fair response to injustice, a way of affirming the value of the person who has been wronged? When our dignity has been violated, we need something to restore it. Without revenge, we are left with the message that we are worth no more than the way we were treated.

And yet Jesus calls us to forgive.

For the longest time I have been struggling with how to hold these two together. Asking a woman who has been beaten or raped to forgive her abusers seems to me to add insult to injury. Requiring a man who has been maligned or berated to turn the other cheek seems to me to reinforce his degradation. What happened to affirming the dignity of the image of God within each person? Isn’t it right to defend that image?

And yet forgiveness means giving up our right to revenge.

Heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

I suppose my hang-up over the common Christian assumptions about forgiveness is that they seem to deny the value of the person who has been hurt, to overlook the need for their worth to be reaffirmed. Having personally struggled with the profound shame that follows abuse, I can’t accept the trite answer that forgiveness is simply choosing to forget about the hurt. If only it were that simple! But heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

So I am left with the question: How can a damaged person forgive while still holding on to any scrap of self-worth? In my heart I’ve known that revenge isn’t really the best way to re-establish damaged dignity, but at least it is a start. Revenge solves the problem with corresponding negativity. But is there a positive way to receive the affirmation we so desperately need?

And once again, Jesus leads the way in showing how it is done.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalm 22:6-10

Talk about a degraded image of God! At the end of a lifetime of criticism and questioning. After an eternal night of being tortured and molested. Pulverized. Victimized. Ridiculed. Rejected. In the midst of agony and mockery on the cross, He neither sought His abusers degradation nor gave in to His own.

Jesus could forgive those who tore Him down because His Father kept building Him up. Descending doves. Assuring affirmations. Repeatedly the Father had reminded Him of how valued He was, firmly establishing Him in His status as God’s beloved Son.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:12-13
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…
Ephesians 4:32-5:1

And these are the same affirmations embedded in the multiple texts that call us to forgive. Dearly beloved children. Cherished people. God is not calling us to let go of our worth; He is leading us to assert our position as His kids by responding to others the way He responds to us. Forgiveness based on our relationship with Him is not further degradation; it is proof of our glorification.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:19-21

And lest we worry that in embracing this higher call our abusers will somehow get the message that the way they treated us was OK, our Father reassures us. He will make sure we are avenged. In the meantime, we get the pleasure of exercising our freedom from being defined by how others treat us. We get to repay their evil with good, their cruelty with kindness, because we know who we are to God.

Forgiveness based on our relationship with God is not further degradation;
it is proof of our glorification.

Healing from emotional wounds takes time. Forgiveness does not come easy nor is it achieved overnight. But I have found that as I grow in my security as a treasured child of God, my need for revenge is steadily dropping away. Instead I find myself increasingly consumed by a greater desire: to receive and reflect my Father’s love.

Sweet revenge. Sweeter love.

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Longing for Eden

Once upon a time a garden grew
Where darkness had covered and Spirit flew
Planting the seed of something new:
The conception of Eden.

Beauty and order, life and light
Sprang from the earth and ended the night
God in His garden declared it all “right”:
The birth of Eden.

Not yet finished, good but not best
God stepped back and man failed the test.
Fruit prematurely plucked, cursing the rest:
The loss of Eden.

Again God came near and His Spirit hovered,
Planting the Seed in the womb of another
Angels sang with hope recovered:
The promise of Eden.

Withered vines healed, fruit restored
Mustard seed grew, moving toward
A garden more sweet and full than before:
The glory of Eden.

Still unfinished, the garden felt its lack
As thorns pierced His brow and He took its flack.
Sun hid its face as earth received Him back:
The Seed of Eden.

Garden grows on, new fruit arrives.
Pink cheeks fill our hearts, rosy dreams fill our eyes.
We celebrate the gift of life:
The joy of Eden.

Dark shadows steal over fresh rosy cheeks.
Mother heart pierced, father heart weeps.
Fruit prematurely plucked, hope and curse meet:
The death of Eden.

Sun still comes up but limp limbs hang down.
What comfort, what purpose in going on?
Empty arms, barren trees, sweet fruit now gone:
The loss of Eden.

But sure as the dawn we for look for the morn
When seed will again sprout, life be reborn
Empty tomb greet those who show up to mourn:
The resurrection of Eden.

Until then we tarry, inspired to nurture
The garden around us, our friends, family, culture.
Preparing the earth for its bright promised future:
The coming of Eden.

In Memory of
Eden Wang-Hua Clark
July 2, 2014–October 20, 2014

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Open Letter to a Hindu

mind_the_gap_logo_by_rrward

Sometimes we say things to edify one audience that inadvertently hurt another.

Such was the case for me last week. Noticing an unusual number of visitors to my blog coming from an unfamiliar site, I decided to track down the source. My heart sank when I saw its title: When They Call Your God a Demon.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
John 14:6

I groaned as I read the rest of the post, feeling the pain I had caused this American Hindu. This is not the first time I have felt myself caught between two worlds, able to see from opposing perspectives but unable to reconcile them without tossing integrity out the window. Hindus graciously accept all sincerely pursued paths as leading to the same God; Jesus claims to be the exclusive way to God. While I clearly fall on one side of this gap, I want to remain sensitive and relevant to those who live on the other.

The following is my attempt to love my neighbor without compromising my love for God. It also explains why I have taken down my earlier post about Toppling Giants.

Hi Deepika,

I am the author of that article. To remain silent would be to continue the breakdown in dialogue between us, so I have been praying for wisdom and grace in my reply.

For starters, I commend you for your fair treatment of my article. You neither attacked me nor exaggerated my position.

I confess that, at times, I too have struggled to understand and accept the aspects of my God that are violent or exclusive. When I read His Scriptures and talk about Him with others, these are not what I focus on. I marvel at His love and His beauty, His slowness to anger and His quickness to forgive. I wonder at the vastness of His creation and the intimacy of His relationship with so many different kinds of people, including me.

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
Acts 17:29-30

And yet, if I am honest with the claims He makes about Himself, I cannot deny that an integral part of His character is His claim as the Most High God and His call for the loving allegiance of all He has created. I feel the offensiveness of this, especially when I consider it through the eyes of the many Hindus I have the privilege of calling my dear friends. I want to find a way around these claims, to redefine the aspects of my God that conflict with their core values and faith so that we can carry on in relationship similar to the one you described in your article.

But to do so would be to invent my own god. We can choose which god we worship, but if we start picking and choosing which of His characteristics we accept and which ones we reject, we are really just creating our own illusion.

So I am stuck between conflicting loyalties. And at the end of the day, I choose God. I believe that He is the source of my love for others, and that He loves them more than I do. But I still don’t understand how that all plays out, and I would be lying if I said that I am perfectly comfortable with it.

The truth is, I cannot be true to my God and change what I believe about yours.

Having said all that, I hurt with you over the disrespect you felt over my article. How can I say derogatory things about your god without insulting you? This is the dilemma I have felt for years. The truth is, I cannot be true to my God and change what I believe about yours. But the last thing I want to do is insult or attack you. I may think and pray along the lines of what I wrote, but I feel it was inappropriate (and perhaps even unloving) of me to write it in a public forum. Please forgive me. I have removed the article from my site, and will try to be more careful in what I publish in the future.

There is this ongoing tension between airing opinions that are true to ourselves but offensive to others. I’m not sure where the line should fall on that. To be frank, I usually avoid sites like yours because your opinions are associated with experiences that have been extremely painful and damaging for me. I know you don’t mean it that way, and I am not implying that you shouldn’t write freely about what you believe. But there truly are two sides of this coin. I imagine you are familiar with the tantric side of Kali. We used to live down the street from a tantric ashram, with skulls stacked up at the entrance and fearful rumors among the poor in the neighboring Hindu community that each month one of their children went missing as a human sacrifice. I know this is the not the aspect of Hinduism that you promote, but it is there within the system. For me, even a benevolent picture of the mother goddess brings back dark memories.

So I resort to affirming my love for Him first, but also to affirming my love for you.

So what is the way forward in demonstrating love and respect towards each other even as we experience major hangups over each other’s gods? I don’t think either of us would suggest that we give up our own gods. I am aware of my own competitive, selfish tendencies enough to know that the love and compassion I feel for you is a product of the Spirit of God flowing through me. Apart from Him, I would be a pretty lousy friend. So I resort to affirming my love for Him first, but also to affirming my love for you. I hope you can accept me on those terms.

Sincerely,
Tiffany

The Singing Exorcist

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Our first October back in the US brought great consternation to my children: skeletons dangling in our neighbors’ front yard, images of witches and evil spirits plastered on storefronts, and little shrines filled with plastic symbols of death, demons, and sorcery set up on reception desks and public entry ways of homes, businesses, and schools. My children kept turning to me in shock, searching for an explanation.

Idols, shrines, and spirit worship were an integral part of the world they had grown up in. They understood the reality of the spirit beings that those “cute” little symbols were representing. And our recent encounters with overt demonic attack in South Asia had left us all shaken and hypersensitive to the presence of the spirit realm. Our impulse was to look away as we walked past, to avoid eye contact with evil lest we invite further attention.

Our careful avoidance of the spirit realm
betrays our underlying fear.

This is the same posture I notice in many Western Christians when the topic of spiritual warfare is raised. Furtive glances. Lowered voices. Subject changes that switch to more “edifying” thoughts. Excuses that the Bible doesn’t give much attention to it and neither should we. But our careful avoidance of the topic betrays our underlying fear.

So what is an appropriate posture for Christians when confronted with evil?

Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.
1 Samuel 16:23

A theologian-friend once pointed out to me that young David was the first exorcist we meet in the Bible. Called in to play his harp for the demon-possessed Saul, David was brought face-to-face with unmitigated evil on a daily basis. But rather than hide in terror or play around as if these ghosts were merely a figment of Saul’s superstitious imagination, David confronted them with singing.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
Psalm 8:1-2

He sang songs of praise to God’s superior power and glory, songs of thanks for His love and protection. He sang songs of petition for God to stop the evil oppressors and songs of triumph celebrating God’s victories, past and future.

And when that child played and sang, the evil spirit tormenting Saul shut up and left.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers…, what is man that you are mindful of him…? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:3-5

David thumbed his nose in the face of demons, not because he underestimated their power, not because he overestimated his, but because He rightly understood God’s. God’s exalted position over all of creation provided the basis for David’s humble confidence in confronting spirit powers.

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
Colossians 1:13-16

David recognized what we too easily forget. God created and rules over spirit beings just as He does over all human beings. They are the work of His hands, seen and known by Him even if they are scary and alien to us. And we as Christians no longer live as captives to their dark purposes. Yes their power is real and they are at large wreaking havoc in our world, but we have no cause for fear.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.
And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Colossians 2:9-10, 15

Jesus has already taken them on and unmasked their charade for all to see. Their knowledge is limited. Their power is restricted. And best of all, their days are numbered.

So how do we carry on in the meantime, aware that the serpent is contained but still has fangs?

We can afford to be neither flippant nor fearful.

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:11

The powers of darkness are present and active, and we are called to be vigilant and proactive in resisting them. To play around with demonic symbols and magical games is as smart as toying with a venomous cobra. But to avert our eyes and pretend like they aren’t there doesn’t make them go away. If anything, it gives them permission to carry on their work unhindered.

Christ’s exalted position over all of creation emboldens us to humbly confront the spirit powers.

We have a role to play in freeing our world from demonic rule. It involves neither violent aggression nor cowardly hiding, but rather a bold faith in the victory Christ has already won.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:15-16

So we join in with the singing exorcist. We sing songs of praise to our triumphant King. We speak words of truth, proclaiming His victory over our demonic foes and rebuking their false claims on those He has delivered. And we tune our hearts to the grateful chorus of the redeemed, fixing our gaze on the One holding the basket as we sing down the serpent.