Have you ever noticed that when we are offended we sometimes think the worst of the one who has offended us? Even those of the highest character we may quickly accuse of wrongdoing, because we simply do not like what they have done. Take Job, for example, who accused the perfect, omnipotent, Creator of the universe of being unjust. Job resented the trials God had permitted him, so in his hurting condition he lost reason and actually charged God with doing him wrong. He later came to his senses and repented of his mistrust, but for a while he doubted God and related to Him with suspicion and accused him of injustice.
Just as Job related with God from a skewed perspective, some have similar experiences in their relationships with others. An innocent action by a husband may be taken by his wife to be malicious, or an innocent comment by a friend may be automatically interpreted to be mean spirited. Even a mom can respond with undeserved rage to a child whom she imagines is intentionally trying to cause her stress. Every day we all have opportunities to respond to offenders with either graciousness or with evil mistrust. One response reflects the character of Christ and the other does not.
The manner in which we handle offenses determines whether we will either escalate or resolve a conflict. If when we are offended we respond in love and maintain an attitude of hope (1 Cor 13:7), we will give the other the benefit of the doubt. If however, an offense has hit our pride or our sense of personal worth, the pain goes deeper and we may respond with anger and accusation. Typically, those are the occasions in which we are quickest to think the worst of an individual, and end up in a shattered relationship.
More than a few times I have had to mediate broken relationships within families or between friends. Each time it has been the same – one side said or did something at which the other had taken offense. The offended party interpreted the offense not as an accident or a misunderstanding, but as an intentional, malicious action. They suddenly mistrusted someone whom they had previously trusted. I have found that each time there was reconciliation it came as soon as the offended party became willing to consider that they were wrong in their judgment of the other’s motives. At the moment they humbled themselves and opened their hearts to the possibility that the others were telling the truth, the resolution was almost immediate. This phenomenon is a remarkable demonstration which reveals that the power of reconciliation is more in the hands of the offended individual than in the one whose motives are doubted.
It can be devastating for us to be separated from loved ones by unnecessary division. Yet, there is one whose heart hurts far worse than ours – God’s. When brothers and sisters in Christ allow themselves to hold offenses toward one another Christ’s precious body is shredded. The Evil One drives in a wedge of suspicion and mistrust between family members, and the division can remain for years. Christ knew before he ever started his church that his people were imperfect, so would be tempted to take offense at one another, but it was his goal that they be drawn closer together at those times by their love and forbearance. Perhaps that is why he prayed so fervently for unity among His people in John 17. And perhaps that is why He listed “long-suffering” at the top of his list of the characteristics of love in 1 Corinthians 13. He is the epitome of love and mercy and desires us to grow to become like him when others offend us. It will be to God’s glory when love and mercy flows again for those once divided.