Life wouldn’t be easy, but it sure would be more manageable if people didn’t do stupid things. We’d still have pain—people would get cancer, accidents would happen, and those we love would die.
But think about how much better things would be if you take out all the downright foolish decisions people make every day:
- The teenager who ignores her parents’ warnings and marries that guy anyway;
- The husband who betrays his wife’s love for a moment of fleeting pleasure;
- The dad who sits in the bar every night;
- The wife who decides she doesn’t want to be married anymore;
- The pastor who thinks no one will ever know.
And, to make matters worse, these aren’t just theoretical people. People we love do something stupid. They live in our house. We heard them say, “I do.” They have names—often names we gave them.
The Two Extremes
In the wake of each decision, we are all left with a choice as to how we will respond. My guess is that you, like me, vacillate between two extremes. On the one hand, we are tempted to write them off. They’ve got to learn, right? The
On the one hand, we are tempted to write them off. They’ve got to learn, right? The choices and the tragic results are their own doing, and we’d be complicit in this behavior if we didn’t allow them to feel the full brunt of the consequences.
On the other hand, we’re prone to look the other way. Immediately after the decision, we might have a few hard conversations, but once the pain abates just a bit, we are tempted to just move on.
We know, after all, that we’ve been the person who’s done something stupid more times than we’d like to admit. Who are we to call them to account for their choices when we’ve got our own mess to deal with? And, if we do push the issue, it’s likely going to result in all sorts of relational friction, so why compound the pain?
Our personalities and life history shape these responses in ways we can’t easily trace, developing in us natural propensities that may trump biblical wisdom.
Love And Justice At The Same Time
In fact, Scripture holds these two seemingly incompatible responses in tension. Throughout Scripture, the twin towers of God’s character are revealed time and time again.
He is a God of love and justice. Both. At the same time. Towards the same people.
Starting with Adam and Eve, God continually holds people responsible for their sin and its consequences, while lavishing them with grace and mercy. It’s hard for us to imagine how we can do the same. Love seems to be incompatible with judgment and vice versa.
As a result, we tend to pick one default response at the exclusion of the other. We will choose love and trust that God will be the one who judges when, and if, he wants. Or, we will choose judgment, knowing that God will love them even if we don’t.
Yet, biblical wisdom shows that we should model God’s character and do both. When we are wronged we should “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” just like Jesus did (Matt 5:44). When we have been sinned against we should “not seek revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath” (Rom 12:19). We should “forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave us” (Eph 4:32)—even if that means we must keep on forgiving people time and time again (Matt 18:21–22).
When we have been sinned against we should “not seek revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath” (Rom 12:19). We should “forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave us” (Eph 4:32)—even if that means we must keep on forgiving people time and time again (Matt 18:21–22).
But, we also hold others accountable for their choices. We confront others who sin, seeking repentance and change (Matt 18:15–20). Contrary to cultural norms, we should judge the sin of brothers and sisters in the church and, should the sin continue, “purge the evil person from our midst” (1 Cor 5:12–13). We should not “walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (Ps 1:1).
Showing Love and Justice When People We Love Do Something Stupid
These two characteristics of God are manifest in the lives of His children when people we love do something stupid. It’s then that we are able to model the holiness of God by not turning a blind eye to sin and pretending that it doesn’t exist. We don’t minimize rebellion from God and pretend that it’s not that bad. And we can’t redefine sin to make it acceptable.
We are also able to model the love of God when people we love do something stupid. Like God, we can affirm our love for another and pursue them in their waywardness without diminishing God’s holy standard. We show that God’s love isn’t a fleeting feeling based on our ability to be good at any given moment. He chooses to love and does so in both the good and the bad. When we do the same for others, we paint a compelling picture of what God is like.
Life’s not going to be easy any time soon. People we love will continue to do stupid things and each time we’ll be faced with the same choice. If we choose wisely, we have a unique opportunity to model the twin towers of God’s character in a way we might not otherwise have.
And, in so doing, we point others towards a God who’s really good at loving people who’ve done all sorts of stupid things.
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