In the age of instant access, social media, and 24-hour news stations, everyone has their own unique expert opinion. How many times have you been on social media sites and seen people publically shame one another over their actions? The gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo that was shot when a 4 year old child’s life was in danger and every single move that each of the presidential candidates made during the election received severe criticism from those on the other side of the fence. Hate is spewed online every minute of every day, and if we let it, that hate will seep into our hearts.
With all of the criticism, I am reminded of the cartoon, which depicts a man, a woman, and a donkey. In each of the four possible scenarios, the man is criticized.
This image is pretty self-explanatory, so there’s no need for further commentary, other than to say no matter what decision we make, someone, is going to criticize us; it is inevitable. But wow! Does it ever open my eyes to how anything we chose to do or say will be met with an attack.
Love is not like this. Love does not attack, belittle, or harm others. 1 Corinthians 13 gives the best definition of love, when it describes love as patient and kind. Furthermore, it says “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but love rejoices with the truth (emphasis added).”
Part of the problem with the day and age in which we live is that people have forgotten how to extend love to others. Their first, and often only, response is quite the opposite.
When faced with the choice of possibly saving the life of a toddler and that of a zoo animal, the choice to save the life of the child, the human being, was made. I doubt there was much time to think about the consequences or how the entire world would respond – it was probably more instinctual than rational.
Does it really matter if the mom was watching her child or not? Does it even matter if the child was a brat or a perfect angel? Even if a mom were to throw her toddler into the cage with a lion, would it really matter? Who do we protect: the small human child or the animal? To me, it’s a no-brainer.
For the record, this is not what I believe happened.
But the public outcry was astonishing! This woman received death threats, because someone saved her child. Even people who were claiming to be Christians were taking part in this public stoning. How different would this world be, if everyone chose to follow the Golden Rule and treat others how we want to be treated? How they deserve to be treated?
Now, I have no idea what that mother’s beliefs are, and it really doesn’t matter. What I do know is this – as Christians, we are called to love one another. The Bible doesn’t beat around the bush when describing how we are to treat our fellow man. It’s not a suggestion or an option. In fact, we are told that of all of the gifts we may possess, the greatest of all is love. Would Jesus have shamed the woman, the child or the zookeeper in the way in which the media and the world did?
The Bible does not sugarcoat what will happen to us as Christians, even when we show love to the world. We always have been and always will be persecuted for our choices (refer back to the donkey cartoon). And what I know to be true is that the enemy loves to attack, when we are walking in obedience and doing God’s work. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” (Ephesians 6:12).
When I decided to share my story of how God protected me, last year, I was viciously attacked by some. I was actually told, “I hope you rot in hell.” Wow! Really? I read more hate-filled words from two people in one day than I have in years.
The good news is that God also responded.
He spoke to me through hundreds of comments, text messages, instant messages, emails and phone calls. He spoke to me through both women and men who told me how much my story helped them – some because of what they have gone through in their past, some because of what they are currently experiencing and some because it forced them to take a look in the mirror and evaluate their own actions and how their choices have affected others.
He also spoke directly to me by giving me a vision. He showed me the image of a giant who was being attacked by midgets. These midgets were shooting something like spitballs at the giant. The message was crystal clear – the enemy will attack but I will protect you.
Although those attacks are bothersome, they are nothing more than a slight annoyance, as nothing and no one can get in the way of His plan for our lives. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28).
God can, has and will continue to take every negative, bad, ugly situation I have ever endured, and I trust that He is, has and will continue turning them to good for His glory.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11). This is a promise I cling to, daily. Hope. The promise of a better future. The understanding that He can use me, my heart and my story to give others hope and to show them His love.
The definition of love from 1 Corinthians continues like this, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” This speaks of the love my Father has for me. He loves me enough to never quit carrying my burdens. I can have confidence in the knowledge that nothing I will ever experience, no matter how hard, will ever compare to the blessing he will return to me.
And because He loves me, and because he has called me to do so, I choose to respond with love.
How do we respond with love?
We love them. We pray for them. We forgive them.
The world would tell us that we should go on the defensive and attack right back. Some may even look to Exodus and quote, “An eye for an eye.” But the true meaning behind that verse is not that if someone strikes you, you strike them back. It is meant to say that justice should fit the severity of the crime; excessive harshness and excessive leniency should be avoided.
In fact, Paul tells us in Romans that we should not take revenge, as that is reserved for the Lord. The Lord will hand out the rightful punishment to those who choose to mistreat us. Believe it or not, He may even decide to repay them with grace. Whoa!
What the Bible does, however, tell us to do is to repay our enemies with LOVE and the PRAY for them (Matthew 5:44). Pray for them? Seriously God?
I dare you to ask Him if he wants you to pray for them and see how he responds. Pray for those who have mistreated you. Love those who wish you harm. And let your light shine in this dark world, so that they may see the love of the Father through you.
We are also called to forgive. Forgive as the Father forgives us. This does not mean we must forget and act as if the transgression never occurred, because that is not what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is actually a gift we give ourselves, when we choose to let go of, instead of holding onto, feelings that lead to bitterness, resentment, anger and hate. When we forgive, we are freeing up space in our hearts for something better.
The ultimate act of love was when Jesus sacrificed his own life to pay for our sins. He, himself, said from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” After the attacks, the persecution, and the moment in which his very life was being taken, Jesus showed mercy to his enemies. He prayed for them. And he forgave them.
This is the choice I made, when I was attacked. In addition to reaching out to my prayer-warrior friends, I chose to be happy. I chose to love. I choose to forgive. And I chose to extend grace.
The choice is yours to make. But, the next time someone treats you unkindly, I encourage you to remember that the repayment of love is much more satisfying, much more freeing and much more Christ-like than any other choice. With forgiveness comes freedom.
After all, our debts – our transgressions – have already been forgiven and paid for with love.