“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”—Mahatma Gandhi
1 Peter 3:13-22
How should we respond when treated badly, even while doing good? How do we react when being good is no shield to suffering? Why do we think being good and then treated badly are even related? This is a question that hangs over the epistle reading from Peter’s first letter that will be read this coming weekend. Years ago, these questions even became the topic of a popular book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, entitled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The question of why bad things happen even to people of faith is one that haunts followers of every faith, as well as those who have none—and often those who have turned their backs on faith have done so precisely because of this question. The insistence of God’s continued goodness in the face of injustice and evil even has a special name in theology: theodicy.
Let’s face it: God does not try to blackmail us into belief, but instead honors our free will that was given to us in our creation in God’s image. And as unsatisfying as it may be, it is true that sometimes things just happen. If believing in God would protect people from everything from everyday betrayals to suffering and oppression, there wouldn’t be atheists—but many people would also have a shallow, transactional faith, which really is close to no faith at all. Yet the story of Jesus himself, his passion and betrayal in particular, reminds us that we are framing the issue the wrong way. If Jesus himself could be betrayed by a friend and suffer a horrific death, then we ourselves cannot assume that we are inoculated from pain or suffering, either. We can, however, be reassured by the knowledge that Jesus not only understands our suffering and pain, but is alongside us in those experiences. We can also determine that we ourselves are going to be part of the healing, rather than part of the wounding. We are not promised a reward when doing what we should, just as we don’t always get punished when we are doing something wrong. These kinds of situations occur more often than we would like, certainly.
It is said that “Hurt people hurt people.” This is a profound truth for many hurtful acts deliberately committed. Threatened people lash out, jealous people try to tear others down—and on and on it goes. This is the chain of pain that often gets passed down through generations. And let’s be honest: previous generations didn’t really know how to move toward healing, either. Trauma, revenge, and belligerence are handed down through generations just the same as hair color or blood type. The difference is, we ourselves can decide to break the cycle of pain, develop an understanding of suffering that it is universal, and even pray for those who seek to do us harm.
But, if we practice the gift of listening, and of honesty, we can decide how WE are going to react to the residual pain that reverberates in our souls from the pains inflicted upon us or upon those in our lives. Not by repaying wrong with wrong, and by letting go of the injury that has been done to us, trusting in God that the grace we receive through love that knows no limits can put in perspective the harm we have suffered. While there is life, there is hope, and while there is hope, there is forgiveness and peace.
May we all seek first of unchain ourselves from our own woundedness, and seek the assurance of Christ’s love for us, and determine to walk gently among each other and upon this earth, forging a new cycle of community and love—the very definition of God’s kingdom come and God’s will be done.