One of the things I tend to find most fascinating in looking at and thinking about myself and other people are the failure we have to properly see ourselves as others see us. One of the consistent sources of double standards and a failure we have to live up to the expectations and requirements we put on others and that others, rather sensibly, then apply to us, is the fact that we simply do not see what we do to others in the same light that we see what others do to us. We simply see what we do through a filter of self-justification that we simply do not give to others, and it is really difficult to try to understand how others see us from their perspective when how we see ourselves, and what we know (or think) about ourselves is so hard not to see in making that kind of determination.
There is a whole family of songs that can be judged as being related to each other, songs where people are trying to justify themselves and gain reconciliation by pointing to the fact that “anyone of us” could do what such and such a person did that caused pain to others. This sort of appeal is not particularly pleasing, even if it is often quite true. Often the framing of the songs–think of something like The Human League’s “Human” here–tries to make both parties morally equivalent and thus better able to forgive each other because both of them need to be forgiven themselves. Sometimes, when the person writing and performing the songs lacks self-knowledge, there is the tendency for people to condemn in others that which they openly admit to doing either there or elsewhere, a true failure of empathy.
Yet even when we acknowledge that anyone of us could do the things that we did that others hate, that is not a real solution. After all, when other people do things to us that we hate, our natural response (if we are the sort of self-assertive people that contemporary culture cultivates) is to lash out at them as being some sort of wicked monsters for doing to us what we routinely do to others without reflection or repentance. If we are therefore possessed of self-knowledge, we may recognize that other people may respond to us the same way that we respond to others without thinking or reflecting on the fact that they routinely do what you had done to them but are not upset about what they have done but only about the way it feels when someone else does it to them. To point this out to someone who lacks self-awareness or a tendency to reflection is likely not to end well.
How do we cultivate a happy medium where the self-assertiveness to respond back to bullies and tyrants exists but where we openly acknowledge the fact that we are in fact people who are far from perfect and who therefore treat others with the same mercy that we wish for ourselves? It takes a delicate act of distinguishing to determine the difference between someone who is conscientious but flawed–as we would hopefully be ourselves–and someone who is abusive and unreflective. When we are told to forgive our brother seventy times seven, this is in the context of forgiving a brother who has committed themselves to following God’s ways and growing in grace and knowledge and sanctification and righteousness and all that. A person who is in the process of becoming reformed and reshaped in the image and likeness of God the Father and Jesus Christ is going to fail often in that process. Yet they are failing in the course of making that progress towards the kingdom, and hopefully that can be seen even if the results are not always perfect. We must be able to distinguish between someone who is working with all their limited strength and with God’s help to supply what we lack and those who merely go through the motions of seeking reconciliation without bearing the fruits of repentance and redemption. This is by no means an easy task.
It is so interesting that you write this post even as I am studying the “beam in one’s eye while straining at the gnat in another’s” syndrome. Christ carried this beam and was subsequently nailed to it; signifying His unbelievable suffering at having to bear the burden of taking on our sins, shortcomings and faults–and forgiving them to the point of death. When we “stick it in our eye” instead of forsaking ourselves, carrying our beam and following Him, we deny His sacrifice.
Forgiveness, therefore, must be a universal quality for the converted Christian. It sometimes means that we end up having to bear the burden of taking it patiently when we suffer for doing the right thing, for this is our calling (I Peter 2:20-21). Whether the other person is introspective or not, and whether his attitude is amenable to our peaceable overtures or not is a matter beyond our purview.
Indeed, we must be willing to forgive regardless of the state of others. But knowing that others are being like ourselves can help us from having unrealistic expectations that others will be as quick to justify us as we are eager to justify ourselves.
That’s the center of the problem; justification. Forgiveness is without expectations. We have to hand it over to God. All the issues are against Him, not us, anyway. We are made in His image and likeness–not our own–so the injustices supposedly done against us (even though we are hurt by them) are actually done against Christ. As the Apostle Paul stated, we have died and don’t live as ourselves anymore, but as Christ in us. We are bought and paid for; slaves to righteousness. We don’t have the right to feelings about how the other person reacts or feels about us at all.
Indeed, those offenses done against us are really done against God–and vice versa, but that is not how we see them, and our native human response is to respond based to our perceptions rather than to the ultimate reality that we often do not perceive. It is therefore unsurprising that justification is at the heart of so much human behavior.