Grudges, Karma, and Justice
“A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
This was the greeting given to Holocaust survivor, Corie Ten Boom after a speaking engagement in post WWII Germany.
She had been speaking of God’s forgiveness, but now she struggled to take his outstretched hand.
She remembered him. It was the first time since her release that she had been face to face with one of her captors and her blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.”
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
Praying for the Lord’s help, she took his hand and trusted the Lord to make her feelings follow her faith.*
Bitterness, resentment, and hatred threaten the joy that is ours in Christ. How can we find hope when we’re struggling with deep hurt?
It’s often repeated in our world that holding on to bitterness and grudges are toxic to our souls. Grudges are indeed bitter pills to swallow because they hurt no one but yourself. Many who have no interest in spiritual things agree on this issue. We’re often urged to let go of any hurt feelings for the sake of our own well-being.
Sadly, the motivation behind this advice is too frequently fueled by selfish motives.
“They’re not worth the energy.”
“I’m too important to be drug down to their level.”
Perhaps because the Bible commands us** to “let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil-speaking be put away” from us, many Christians follow this line of thinking not realizing that it is a half-truth rooted in self-centeredness. Many believers even apply the often twisted interpretation of Matthew 22:39 that we are to love ourselves.***
The problem with this is that our souls were not made to let go of hurt without seeing justice done. We were made in the image of God and as image bearers, we have inherited a strong desire to see righteousness reign. We long for all wrongs to be made right.
Others in our world today suggest another motivation for letting go of hurts and injustices: karma. I’m not referring to the Eastern religion version of karma, but to the Western caricature of it that is rooted more in a desire to see vengeance fall upon our enemies. Many believe the ancient immutable laws of the universe will see to it that offenders will get their just desserts and we need only to be patient.
Perhaps because this sounds vaguely similar to the biblical laws of sowing and reaping,**** Christ followers once again get sucked in by this worldly way of selfish thinking.
May I suggest a better way?
In Matthew 18, Jesus warns us that it is to our own eternal peril if we do not forgive “from the heart” (v. 35). So, yes, if we are to be biblical Christians, we must root out every last bit of bitterness and resentment from our hearts, but not out of selfish motives; rather, out of God-centered motives.
Romans 12:17-21 reminds us to leave it to the wrath of God trusting that vengeance is His. Because of this, we can do good, even to our enemies. See the action here? Love for our neighbor. See the motive? God’s wrath against sin will take care of this. By faith, we can trust that we cannot improve on a literal, burning, eternal hell. By faith, we trust that justice will be done and we cannot improve on God’s justice.
Secondly, when brothers and sisters in Christ hurts us -and they will -we can forgive from the heart because God has already dealt the all-satisfying blow of justice upon this sin. It has already been paid for on Calvary. At the hill of the skull, my bitterness can die because my brother’s sin also died there when justice was satisfied. You and I cannot improve on the justice at the cross. This was the ultimate display of God’s love for his enemies.
When we refuse to forgive from the heart, we are not only depriving ourselves of peace and joy, we are making a statement about God’s justice. We are saying that His way of dealing with sin is not enough for us. We are choosing to walk by sight, not by faith; and we are even endangering our very souls.
I urge you to let the bitterness, resentment, and hurt die; but please do so for the glory of God and the heartfelt love of your neighbor -not for the world’s selfish motivations.
Forgive to the glory of God. Forgive like your soul depends on it -because, after all -it does.