Friday, March 23, 2007

When Others Hurt Us


People in the church have varying ways of handling personal hurt from other members. Some lash out with tongues on fire looking to exact pain to compensate for their own hurt. Others become quiet and distant and eventually pull away from the fellowship. Still others turn in on themselves and torture their inner emotions in self-doubt and personal condemnation for perceived but nonexistent faults.

As a pastor it has been a challenge to overcome or avoid these popular routes, although, more often than not, I have probably fallen for the third option above. Thus, the pain first received grows beyond itself by our own inward torture. For many pastors there is also the temptation to lash out at those who oppose us and use our position as a place to leverage power or dominance.

Recently while reading a post by Rev. McCain on Cyberbrethren, I found some verses by the beloved hymn writer Paul Gerhardt that addressed this very issue. The hymn takes us to the cross first, and then, in light of that cross, contemplates how we might handle the suffering of our own lives. It is in that cross that we find freedom from the hate that might otherwise consume us. It is in that cross that divine forgiveness overpowers our sinful desire to withhold love from the enemy. If I understand the first verse listed here (the actual 6th verse of the hymn), it is that “faithful love” of Christ that “cleaves” to those who sinfully scorn us.

> And I will study to adorn
> My heart with meekness under scorn,
> With gentle patience in distress,
> With faithful love, that yearning cleaves
> To those o'er whom to death it grieves,
> Whose sins its very soul oppress.

> When evil tongues with stinging blame
> Would cast dishonor on my name,
> I'll curb the passions that upstart;
> And take injustice patiently,
> And pardon, as Thou pardon'st me,
> With an ungrudging generous heart.

> And I will nail me to Thy cross,
> And learn to count all things but dross
> Wherein the flesh doth pleasure take;
> Whate'er is hateful in Thine eyes,
> With all the strength that in me lies,
> Will I cast from me and forsake.

When one considers the tremendous pressure he faced in his own time, these words take on even greater significance. How easy it would have been for him to become bitter, especially after enduring the horror of the Thirty Years War, or the death of this wife and four of his five children, his own health problems or having to be deposed from his pulpit by the reformed Frederick William of Brandenberg-Prussia for his efforts to remain true to the Word of Christ and the Lutheran confessions. If any man deserved to lash out in anger and resentment, we might expect it to be him. But he found healing in the crucified Lord of Calvary. His pain instead became for us inspiring prose to heal our own inner wounds.

I pray that I might learn from this 17th century pastor in my own times of struggle within the world and church to “take injustice patiently” and “And pardon, as Thou pardon'st me, with an ungrudging generous heart…”

[Note: For additional information on Paul Gerhardt and other links, see McCain’s blog site here.]

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