How do we react to those who wrong us?

Church news
Church news

I got to know the writer and internationally renowned evangelist J John quite well some years ago.

I bumped into him at an event of some sort in Belfast and the relationship grew. There’s a number of things that set him apart from many in his profession.

Firstly he is a genuinely humble man, he is as much at home chatting to a little ‘nobody’ who prefers the back row hoping he won’t be noticed, as he is addressing a crowd of several thousands.

He has a great sense of humour and he uses it to good effect. He tells the story of a man who had an hour or so to wait at an airport for his flight home after a business trip. Not hungry enough for a meal, he bought a bag of mini doughnuts to nibble at as he read his paper. He was shocked when the man sitting across the table from him deliberately reach into the bag and snaffled a doughnut, but he was too polite to say anything.

And he did this several times until between them they had eaten all the doughnuts, and he was furious. Just then his flight was called and as he gathered together his belongings he made sure the man saw the scowl on his face, but as he picked up his hand baggage and things, underneath his overcoat was his bag of doughnuts. He had been angry at the man for stealing his doughnuts, when the opposite was the case!

J John’s friend had allowed his mistaken opinion of the man sitting opposite him to determine how he treated him, with utmost scorn. The man was brazen, he was a mean ill-mannered thief who deserved to be treated with contempt, but in reality, the man was kind, generous and well-mannered.

Life can be a little like that, can’t it? There are times when our attitude to those around us is based on misunderstanding, or a stereotypical view. And then we allow our first impressions to remain when we should permit evidence to challenge them, and so we become prisoners of our decisions.

This is probably a good time of the year to conduct an audit of some of our relationships. We might find that we are are treating someone badly without just cause; like the chap with the doughnuts, or we might have chosen tobelieve gossip because we decided that we don’t want to like a certain individual. Or it could be that we don’t have much time for someone because of something they did or said a long time ago, but we might find that people can change.

Better still - for us - we might find an opportunity to forgive someone for a well remembered thoughtless act or word.

Whether or not we allow ourselves to get to know, or even like the offending person is not the issue, what matters is the freedom that we will experience when we allow forgiveness to flow from our hearts.

The other person might not even be aware that he or she has been forgiven, but we will know and we will find that our willingness to forgive keeps us from growing bitter, twisted and hard.

We can learn from Nelson Mandela, and others such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi; men who changed their world, their common trait being the ability to forgive those who had wronged them.

As Oliver Tambo said of Mandela, ‘He believed in forgiveness, and he forgave, even those who had him incarcerated him for 27 years’.

had him incarcerated for twenty-seven years.’