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If Christians were to follow Paul’s caution to “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men,” and especially to take to heart his admonition that peace begins with us (Romans 12:17-18) then the acerbic tongue would not blow fiery destruction without regard to mayhem, and seeking forgiveness would not be necessary. In Paul’s day, those who had never met Jesus or any true believer were astounded by his teaching of blessing those who persecuted them, and those who cursed them. This would be Rorty’s abnormal discourse in action. A modern day example would be Martin Luther King, Jr., whose nonviolent discourse changed the course of human events, borrowing Thomas Jefferson’s words. King’s rhetoric was based on God’s moral law, and is an example of how Christians can dissent without the acerbic tongue, and without violence. Scholar Quentin Schultze calls attention to King’s observation “one day people will be judged by the ‘content of their character’, not by ‘the color of their skin,’” pointing out “our knowledge of God should shape our understanding of everything else” (2000, p. 91). This is how it should be, but sadly when Christians act as they are expected to act, it isn’t noticed. Only when Christians misbehave does it make souls bleed profusely.
When the acerbic tongue has wielded its destruction, the true Christian will not be able to rest until reconciliation is sought for the Holy Spirit will convict for that action. Just as Jesus’ foundational teaching on dealing with offenses within the family of God, are specifically for relationship restoration, we are to ask forgiveness, seek forgiveness, and give forgiveness in order for our relationship with God to remain open and healthy. This is difficult to do when anger and bitterness ride roughshod over our feelings. Caroline Simon (1997, p. 177) points this out when she states “God calls us from rebellion to servanthood, then fits us to be friends—of each other and of God (John 15).” We are called to love those we’ve never met because they are part of the body of Christ and sometimes it is easier to love that one than it is to forgive our sibling in Christ. We are siblings in one family and one body. When one part hurts the whole body should feel it, just as the physical body feels the pain of the banged shin in the darkness.
Kelley and Waldron (2005) state a Christian axiom, “The process of forgiveness helps to lay the emotional groundwork for relationship recovery, if not full reconciliation. The forgiveness process may also reduce emotional burdens, help individuals regain their spiritual footing, and restore a sense of relational justice” (p. 340). They say, theoretically forgiveness seems to be an interpersonal process rather than an individual decision based on Kelley’s previous work (1998) because the progression of forgiveness cannot be accomplished without the wounded partner’s consent.
That is not actually how forgiveness works in reality. Forgiveness is a one way street to God. The person offended/wounded, must give the action and the feeling of injustice to God. Matthew 18:17-15 is not about forgiveness. It’s about how the church and the Body of Christ are supposed to handle offenses between and among Christians. The responsibility is up to the wounded one to give up the supposed right of retaliation and allow God the right of vengeance. God does chastise in ways that only He knows will work very well to convict the Christian offender. As to the nonbeliever offender, God has special tools to use that will bring him/her to justice. No one gets away with sin.
However, if the one who wounds his sibling in Christ is convicted and takes responsibility for the offense and ask for forgiveness, it is the one wounded who is commanded to forgive not just seven times even for the same offense.
I believe the ultimate point Jesus was trying to make with Peter is that the relationship restoration is important above all else.
Christians are taught to love one another, to “avoid hurtful games based on dysfunctional rules, disconfirming messages, and power-over mentality” (Strom). This is basic to healthy family relationships. Our Christian’s identity is within God, therefore there are attributes of Christian relationships which relate to Strom’s sanctified family in that relationships within the family of God are based on mutuality of trust, goodwill, equality, acceptance, and other positive attributes. Christians sometimes feel their accountability to God, and their bible knowledge give them grace to lord it over, or “power-lording” (p. 157) over other Christians. James teaches against this: But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God (James 3:8-9). Studies such as Garner and Wargo’s (2009) show the autonomous power assumption some pastors have over congregations, or the attitude some congregations have over pastors (because we hired you, we can fire you mentality). This is not the message of love which Jesus taught and of which the Apostles wrote. Christians still act like Godzilla with the destructive forces of their tongue, but we are human with all the fleshly nature of that species. Not an excuse, but a fact we need to consider.
Should we treat nonbelievers differently than we treat our siblings in Christ?
The Godzilla Syndrome, although a coined phrase, is a viable description of what happens when humans get angry and express that anger without much thought about the repercussions of that expression. Anger is the root cause of acerbic tongue usage as James points out as quoted above. Rick Warren recently tweeted “Anger is one letter away from danger,” and is exactly what God warns Cain about before he murders his brother. Like Cain, humans will skew anger expression into something ungodly which requires us to better understand what stimulates an angry reaction. It also requires us to better understand how to direct anger expression into less cutting avenues, as well as how to express forgiveness with the tongue like fresh water rather than bitter acid.We should let God take captive those anger-thoughts lest they develop into anger-deeds and bitterness of soul. Letting go of anger strips the shackles of slavery, cuts the chains of revenge, and abolishes the desert of broken relationships.
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