CAN NATURAL ENEMIES BE FRIENDS?



A Fascinating Article About Christian Forgiveness.


The man was well-meaning (as we say), 'Hey, you two did not used to get on very well together, but you are now both Christians; should you now not be 'bosom pals?'
It seems to be a fair question. Should Christians be bosom pals with all other Christians? After all, Jesus said, 'By this, people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another'
Christians should be a close community. However, as we all know, sometimes it is that other guy who professes Christ who gives us the most trouble! What is the answer to this enigma?
Well in the first place I think that there is little point in being naive; Christians - a great deal of the time - will get on together amazingly well - after all, they share the same overall walk of life. Many of us find, in fact, that good strong relationships with unbelievers are virtually impossible; 'Two cannot walk together except they are in agreement' - this does not mean that we cannot have some good acquaitances among non-believers, we want to help them, we want to be lights to them, but deep abiding friendships? Perhaps not.
But you know, fellow believers or not, we sometimes meet people in the church who really are very different to us; yes, God has called us, but from very different paths and walks of life. Sometimes - if we are going to be brutally frank - we don't even feel comfortable among a few fellow-believers!
I know two Christian men. One greatly wronged the other a number of years ago. Now we have to accept that perhaps a majority of 'wrongs' in such cases are fairly evenly balanced, ie; there are rights and wrongs on both sides, hopefully most Christians caught up in these situations would be able to swallow their pride and offer each other the right hand of fellowship once again. But just occasionally the wrong is more major and has a longer lasting effect and it really does appear to be sharply tilted on one side. This was, in my eyes, the way it was in this particular dispute. So much so, that while I called both these men 'Christians', the one only remained one, in my eyes, by the very skin of his teeth!
Should the man who - we felt - to be most sinned against nevertheless go to the other man and offer the right hand of fellowship without receiving a fulsome apology first? Now I think that many would say, 'Yes', but without having personally experienced the great hurt involved here. I think these people should hold back a little, it is all too easy for us to say what others should do in situations which we have not personally experienced.
Biblically, Repentance comes before forgiveness!
Now okay the 'good guy' could say, 'Well I will just waive all of that in the interests of Christian love and harmony' - but should he? Should we just waive aside, not minor, but major misdemeanours by a regular church-attending believer (and something of an occasional preacher too)? I think that just a few minutes reflection on this will show that that the matter is really not all that sraightforward! And here, one feels, all too many articles in the Christian journals on 'forgiveness' are a bit shallow. They take on the forgiving of more minor offences and either ignore more major examples or seem to infer that the same principles apply. But sometimes they do not. Let me throw two unusual examples at you:

1. Does any individual Jew even have the right to forgive Hitler for what that despot did to his/her people?

2. There was a lady who had been sexually, well, 'mistreated' shall we say, while still a child by her own uncle. But she eventually became a Christian, a really staunch one too. She wanted to make her peace with all. Should she go to her uncle and offer him forgiveness for what he - not she - had done?

After careful counselling with her pastor, it was decided (wisely in my view) that she should not do so. All indications, apparently, were that this man had not repented and he had certainly never expressed any regret to the woman. Any approach by her now could be seriously misconstrued and it would tend to give the impression that what he had done to her all of those years ago was not that serious - but it was serious.
I am told that this woman decided that if this man ever approached her in forgiveness she would willingly grant it, otherwise she would let it rest. You know, Christians should not be naive.
What about the individual Jew wishing to forgive Hitler?
Many would feel that Hitler's crimes were too great to be 'forgiven' by just one man. Did Hitler ever repent of his great evil? Apparently not. Surely the most one can do in such cases is to pray for God to grant one the strength not to be bitter (for bitterness is a spiritual cancer), and to recognise that only God can forgive Hitler. Its too big a job for you or I.
I think that many reading this will begin to see how difficult a pastor's job can be when such scenarios are brought to him.

It seems to me that there are degrees of forgiveness, perhaps three or four of them ranging from a certain resigned and 'detached forgiveness', to a fulsome, complete, 'let me hug you' form of forgiveness; and maybe only God is capable of that in the most extreme cases. Sometimes one hears Christians saying, 'We must forgive and forget - just like God does' But the problem here is that we are not God; We should forgive...but forget? If we are going to be honest, we are just not capable of that, not while in the human state. Also I have noticed that the people who offer that sort of advice are not so good at taking it when it isthey who have been wronged.
Sometimes we have to accept that the only level of forgiveness which is possible is the detached one where we ask God to help us not to be bitter and pray, both that a certain person might change, but that we may also become more forgiving. Occasionally it is certainly good to go right in and offer the right hand of fellowship, even though we are the most wronged party. But it is bad to encourage human weaknesses, maybe that person really does need to be confronted, but can we do this while in complete control of our emotions and temper? If not, this is not the wisest approach. Is this ideal? No, but lets be realistic; we don't live in an ideal society and - Christians or not - we remain affected by some of these things to a greater or lesser extent.

So can 'natural enemies' be friends? Certainly. Yet if we have forgiven somebody for some wrong, it does not mean that we have to be friends thereafter. Lets face it; we all have different personalities and some personalities just don't 'gel' well with certain others. Sometimes we just need to realistically recognise these things.
I recently met a young Pentecostal pastor, he seemed a really nice young chap. Could I work with him? Absolutely not! And the reasons are not only theological - sometimes we just need to recognise these things.
Marshall Davis.
2000

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