“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while—yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.”
~2 Corinthians 7:8-9 (NIV).
Dark moments in relationships...
They’re sometimes wrenching, sometimes defining. But they’re always a spectacle for love when one party takes the courage to patiently confront the other over a crossed boundary or an issue of damaging sin that must be addressed.
Paul was clearly battling with the Corinthians over their hostilities and sins which led him to challenge them. He did this in a letter he sent them which is now lost. The key thing is he began to see (or hear through others) that what he said in this lost letter they were beginning to heed.
We know ourselves when we deliver a rebuke how double-minded we can feel. “Was I too harsh... am I any different... will they take this on board... will they forgive me... can I forgive them?” Even though we know it might be right to challenge people and call them to turn from their ways, we can easily be led into confused thoughts and feelings. This sounds like the sort of slight mental anguish Paul experienced.
We’re talking ‘tough love’... tough for them, sure, but it’s tough for us too!
And what about when it’s us who are on the receiving end? We feel awful initially when we’re called to account and can’t satisfy the other person—we’re wrong and we clearly have to admit it. They call us via the Holy Spirit to repent—and when we do they’re glad, or they should be.
This is the beauty of Christian relationships. There’s no shame in repentance—indeed it’s something all of us need to do continually—it’s turning back to God; getting back on his right path for us. The Christian relationship is ordinarily assured continuity based on repentance. In other words, where we overstep a boundary and are then called to repent—and we do same—the forgiveness of the other party is more or less a given, provided they see our heart is changed and our commitment to new behaviour is good.
And this is a fervent version of love—a kind that cares so much it’s prepared to endure some short term pain for long term relational gain; the drive to maturity and mutual fellowship in the relationship. This sort of pain is not designed to act like an injury, which leaves the marks of a wound, unto resentment and shame etc—it’s just an emotional pain necessary to bring about repentance. The moment repentance is known is the moment to forgive.
This, finally, sorts out the real Christian from the also-ran. The person who can bear humbly at their losses—not resisting—but putting the pieces together again via the agency of the therapeutic Holy Spirit, has the vestiges of God in them, working for good.
The Christian also has no hard time bringing about mercy (again via the Holy Spirit) to forgive—the heart of God’s compassion; we ought to practice forgiveness as if it’s second nature. We need to become good at it.
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.