Most of us are uncomfortable with the thought that we have offended someone, but the discomfort doesn’t always come for the reason we might think. We all have a desire to reestablish the equilibrium that comes with peace, but how that happens is different for different people and different for different situations. When people find out they have made someone angry or hurt, they generally react in one of two ways.
One way we react to finding we have offended someone is we get busy absolving ourselves of the guilt and turning the issue into some problem the offended has. They are obviously making a mountain out of a molehill. They apparently have an issue with something that has nothing really to do with us or what we did… So the issue is theirs, not ours. The fault lies squarely on the shoulders of the offended… we no longer feel guilty…
The other way we react to hearing we have offended someone is by searching our own hearts, discovering our own motives and desires. When the Lord searches our hearts, he shows us things we didn’t realize or admit were there.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24
This honest evaluation most often leads us to seek forgiveness from the offended person, as well as from our heavenly Father because ultimately, it is God whom we have offended by our careless words or actions.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” Psalm 51:1-4
It’s always the more difficult path, because we have to be willing to admit that we are at fault, and who really likes doing that? Not me. I don’t want to think I have offended anyone, least of all God. So what’s really at stake in the forgiveness game? Relationship.
When an offense occurs, there is a rift in the relationship. It’s a problem because we were made for relationships. Ultimately, the way we react when we have offended someone is determined by whether we feel condemnation or conviction. Absolving ourselves is a result of condemnation. When we have hurt someone, condemnation makes us feel offended. Condemnation comes from our enemy, and it leads us to justification of our actions and blame shifting to the person we have offended.
The second reaction is all about conviction, and that comes straight from the Holy Spirit working his way in our hearts and minds. Conviction leads us to healing in our hearts and healing in our relationships. There is no guilt with conviction, only the desire to reestablish the relationship.
Still, sometimes there are those situations where someone was offended by something we have done, and we honestly didn’t really do anything to warrant such a reaction. We have searched our hearts, done our due diligence, and still we come to the conclusion that the offended party is just wearing their feelings on their sleeves. It does happen. I have been guilty of wearing my feelings on my sleeves like an accessory, too.
What do we do then? Sometimes, we just say we are sorry anyway because we care more about the relationship than we care about being right. Are we lying? Not necessarily. We are putting the relationship before our need to be right. But truth is truth and just because I help someone smooth down their ruffled feathers with a gentle word doesn’t change whatever the truth really is. And here’s the thing about the truth…it always wins… eventually. Thankfully, it is not our job to do the work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s heart.
But there’s two sides to the forgiveness coin.
When I am the offended party, I usually want the Lord to deal harshly with the person that offended me. I generally start off by telling him all the things he needs to do in their lives to fix them. Instead, what usually happens is that he deals with me. I’m mad. I want him to smite them. I want him to show them how wrong they are and how justified and wounded I am. For the record… that has never happened. Never a smite. Not even a zap. Rather, he gently reminds me of all that I have been forgiven, and that dead people are difficult to offend. If I am dying daily to self, taking up an offense should be hard to do.
I don’t forgive the person who has offended me because they deserve it. I forgive them because of all that I have been forgiven. I don’t get what I deserve, I get forgiveness. This goes against conventional wisdom. Jesus was anything but conventional. You can check out the story he told his disciples when they asked about forgiveness. It’s the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. (Matthew 18:21-35) Walking in the ways of Jesus means we don’t always win in the way the world defines it, but we live in God’s economy where relationships matter and forgiveness is the standard.