Your Response Is Your Responsibility
Updated: Nov 16, 2022
It looks like it’s going to end badly. The previously almost romantic relationship between Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United continues to disintegrate before the eyes of the very fans who have cheered and applauded every step over, nutmeg and thunderous free kick over the years.
In case you’ve missed it, news has broken today of a ‘shock’ interview CR7 (Ronaldo’s ‘brand name’) has undertaken with Piers Morgan. The interview hasn’t aired yet, but the sensationalist aspects concern the way Ronaldo has spoken about the club and personnel within it, including the new manager.
The emerging narrative is that Ronaldo feels hurt. He feels as though he’s been disrespected, and this is his response – his way of retaliating. He’s aggrieved and he’s lashing out.
It makes for fascinating viewing as a spectacle within the sporting world – hardly a modern-day tragedy of Shakespearean stature, but intriguing, nonetheless.
Beyond that, though, it shines a spotlight on a bigger, more universal issue: How we respond when we feel aggrieved.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Ronaldo debacle, he feels as though he’s been wronged. This may or may not be objectively verifiable, but what isn’t justified is his reaction. The wrongs done to Ronaldo don’t justify his retaliation.
The principle extends to us.
In all likelihood you’ve been wronged at some point in your life. Maybe someone acted deliberately maliciously towards you, intent on causing you harm. More likely, someone was reckless in their actions or careless with their words and caused you hurt without ‘malice aforethought’, premeditated intent. Maybe (and this can feel even worse) they didn’t consider the impact of their decisions upon you and you suffered as a consequence. You were a casualty of ‘friendly fire’.
Whatever the intention (or otherwise), it hurt. You’ve been wounded. Having history – a personal relationship – with the person who causes the harm only seems to amplify the impact. The injury suffered can feel all the more traumatic.
It’s probably a good thing, but it feels unfortunate at times that we can’t control the behaviour of others. If we could, we’d likely spare ourselves a whole world of hurt and strife. But we can’t. As long as we share this moment in time-space history with the people we do, we’ll get hurt (we’ll also be the ones doing the hurting on occasions, but that’s for another time.)
What we can – and must – take responsibility for is our reaction.
What, then does a healthy response to the wrongs of others that cause us hurt look like? Do the Scriptures speak to these kinds of injustices? Indeed they do. Working this through as a process feels clinical, and our emotional responses to things don’t always, or often, follow in neat sequence, but let’s give it a go…
If you’re anything like me, being wronged (or at least feeling wronged – the two things can be quite different!) cuts deep. Every instinct is to react, to lash out, to seek revenge; to ‘do a Ronaldo’. The first thing the Scriptures encourage is a prohibition… a ‘don’t’:
“Do not say, "I'll pay you back for this wrong!" Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” Proverbs 20:22
In the immediate aftermath of being wronged, make a decision with your own will not to retaliate. You and I probably don’t have the wherewithal to follow through on that decision, so we need God’s help. It’s a decision for righteousness, so we don’t need to wonder whether it’s the kind of thing he’ll get behind. He will. That does;’t mean, though, that it’ll be easy. An ‘in a moment’ decision needs to be followed through with a series of decisions still not to take matters into our own hands. Depending on the scale of the wound inflicted, you may process and move on quickly, or find yourself having to keep returning to this months, years, even decades down the road.
Your instincts and initial reactions will lead you to unhealthy places if you’re not careful. Paul repeats the warning the writer of Proverbs issued: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. It’s ironic, is it not, that without careful stewarding of our reaction to someone’s wickedness towards us, we can find ourselves in need of God’s and their forgiveness.
Take care to guard your heart in those early moments of acknowledging you’ve been wronged.
A question worth grappling with, given the Scriptures’ teaching is to what extent do we trust the justice of God. If we genuinely believe that the God who sees all things can be trusted to do what is right and just, surely that finds expression in our letting go of the need to become self appointed judge, jury and executioner.
Beyond the decision to refrain from a sinful response to what’s been done to you, what should you do? We remind ourselves of our peace in Jesus. Do you remember how Jesus foretold that we’d have trouble in this world (John 16:33)? Well immediately prior to that he’d made it clear to his disciples that their peace was in him.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. John 16:33
Their peace was not to be found in the abundance of conflict-free relationships. It wasn’t the absence of rejection, ridicule or hurtful actions that determined their peace. It was Jesus himself and their security in him.
That’s not a cop out. It’s not a statement that says the pangs experienced in this life are not genuine or don’t hurt. It is, however, a reminder, that these things - real and painful though they are – can neither rob nor rock our ultimate peace.
When writing to the church at Corinth, Paul encouraged the recipients of his letter to be and to offer comfort to others encountering trouble in life (2 Cor 1:4), but notice how this occurs… ‘out of the comfort you have received’. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that God is the God of all comfort and he comforts his children, as a perfect father. Sure, we’re to be conduits of that comfort, but let’s not overlook that it starts with receiving.
As God consoles those who’ve been wronged, he begins to work a peculiar grace in their hearts. The kind of upside-down Kingdom grace that makes no sense to the world around us. It’s this grace that moves us from merely restraining our negative reactions and being consoled to positive action.
In one of his most famous sermons (from which the notion of the upside-down kingdom is derived), Jesus instructed his listeners to flip human logic. Ignore the fleshly urge to settle for loving your neighbour and hating your enemy, and pursue a different way….
Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5:44
This, he goes on to say, is a hallmark of genuine faith.
I’m currently navigating the fallout of someone’s actions that have wounded me quite deeply, and a friend helpfully pointed out (hugely paraphrasing Dietrich Bonhoeffer) that praying for the one who has acted in an unhealthy manner towards you makes it difficult to hold on to a sense of grievance or woundedness. It doesn’t put everything right, but it certainly turns your heart towards the other, which can only be a good thing.
Perhaps it’s part of the same ‘stage’, maybe it’s a slight progression, but as well as loving and praying for our enemy, we are commanded to positively bless them:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14
To bless in this context is to speak well of – to eulogise – the one who is opposing us, inflicting harm or pain. It’s to seek the favour and prospering of God toward and upon them. I hope you’re not missing the Gospel challenge here. It’s easy to wallow in our self-pity and passive indignation, but the Gospel doesn’t permit us that option!
Lest we think that we can work this ‘blessing’ thing out in private, Paul clarifies a few verses later that we are to put our ‘blessing’ into action – “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Romans 12:20
All of the above is to be worked out against an underlying, ongoing commitment to forgive the one who has wronged us. The idea of waiting until someone sees the error of their ways and comes to us, tail-between-legs in penance before we deliberate whether to forgive or not – as if we were the Almighty - doesn’t hold sway. Even if the offender remains belligerent or defiant, in denial of their wrong, the Gospel compels us to be at work – by the grace of God – towards forgiveness. Unreservedly, unconditionally.
One final word is to recognise that in addition to the above, the wronged has a responsibility to raise the offence with the one who has wronged them… but that’s a topic for another time.
Ronaldo’s response to feeling aggrieved hasn’t clothed him in glory, and he’s likely burnt bridges with the Old Trafford faithful. The Gospel invites, in fact demands, that we don’t respond like Ronaldo to the hurtful actions of others, but as citizens of the upside down kingdom, we pursue a different, a better, a Jesus-honouring way.
Soli Deo Gloria