Sometimes God smacks me in the head--literally smacks me in the head. Like when I am planning a carefully crafted, passive-aggressive comment to a person who I am trying to forgive, and I literally walk into a wall. I walk into a wall with such force that it brings tears to my eyes and raises a welt on my forehead. In those moments, I wonder why I am so hard-headed that I keep missing the point. I keep missing the point that God is calling us to forgive each other and to live in community with each other, not to speak with passive-aggressive words, but to speak the truth from my heart.
Recently, I heard a sermon on the Trinity and something struck me (not literally struck me, like the wall, but figuratively struck my thoughts). God is a community in godself. God is not one being with one will and one thought. God is the blessed three-in-one. God is a trinity of three beings, bound together by love. If we are made in God’s image, perhaps that means not that we physically look like God, but that we are designed to act like God. We are designed to live as a community, not one being with one will and one thought, but multiple beings, bound together in love. We are not like God when we are alone in our plans and priorities, when we only think of ourselves, or when we put our own needs above others. We are like God when we work with each other in love.
That doesn’t mean we all agree. In the doctrine of the Trinity, we could assume that three separate and equal beings have separate minds and separate wills. In our community, we should expect to disagree, sometimes with passion and anger. When we disagree, we are called to behave like God. We are called to confront each other honestly and to hold each other accountable. The best example for behaving like God in human form is Jesus. From the gospels, we have examples of Jesus. We have examples of Jesus speaking for those on the margins of society, speaking for inclusion and love for all, speaking for standing up for the least of these. We have examples of Jesus challenging his followers to greater learning and greater sacrifice. We have examples of Jesus standing up to the forces of oppression and violence. We have examples of Jesus healing people, forgiving sins, and holding people accountable for their actions. We do not have examples of Jesus writing passive-aggressive emails, or gossiping, or dissembling in the face of a bully.
In moments of crisis, often I am torn between forgiving those who have caused pain and standing up for those who were hurt. If I allow those who have caused pain back into my life in order to forgive them, am I betraying my friends whom they have hurt? I am afraid that I don’t have the strength and the wisdom. How will I know when to confront and when to forgive? How will I walk in love with my fellow Christians and still stand up to bad behavior? How does a loving community deal with conflict and anger? We will all make mistakes, sometimes really big mistakes. We all need to practice forgiveness, and we all need to hold each other accountable to act in love. It is not easy and I do not know the way forward most of the time.
These are not new words and new ideas. Christians have been speaking and preaching the path of love for centuries. And we still screw it up. Some people, it seems, have the best of intentions but lack the clarity and discipline to enact their loving plans. Some people, it seems, honestly desire to sow conflict rather than collaboration. Some people, it seems, just plain wear us out with their mistakes, intentional or not. Some people, it seems, (all of us) just keep screwing it up, again and again and again. So, we preach it again and again and again and we try to learn to forgive. We screw it up and we preach and we listen and we try to come together one more time, even if it seems that it won’t work or that we don’t have the strength. We try forgiveness because it is the hardest thing, but the only thing that works.
As God taught me by smacking me in the head, the path forward is NOT through passive-aggressive words and gossip. The path forward into love is to through direct, honest, and vulnerable conversation. God, please give me the strength and the wisdom to walk the path.