Don Follis: Only God can help us overcome evil with good

If you insist on judging others, holding a grudge or indulging your bitterness, I can give you a little help. I learned it myself when I was in the eighth grade.

There was a pretty young freshman in high school who befriended me right after Labor Day. She introduced herself to me, and we talked in the hallway before the bell rang for the first morning class. I have no memory of ever talking with her outside of school. I had no idea where she lived and knew nothing about her family. All I knew was that she was attractive and friendly.

What I also did not know, nor am I sure that she knew, is that she had a boyfriend, at least a wannabe. Unhappily, I discovered this on a Saturday morning at the city park basketball court. My 12-year-old brother and I were just leaving the court when I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. As I turned around, I got slugged right in the nose by a short, chubby, freckle-faced high school freshman. This girl's "boyfriend" said, "Leave her alone. She's taken."

I was stunned. This was completely new information to me. I don't think I'd ever even talked with the kid, although I knew he came from a rough family. Holding my hand on my now bleeding nose, I had the wherewithal to ask, "Leave who alone?"

He named the girl who had befriended me in the hallway. Then he immediately spun around and ran away through the park. His older brother, standing in the distance, joined him and together they ran away.

My little brother was totally confused. We then ran home. I told mom exactly what happened. I was so mad that I yelled, saying I wanted to get even that very day.

But my mom said to let it go and avoid this girl at school the following week. You already know how I countered. "Mom, she's the one who has been coming up to me in the hallway. We just talk. Other kids are there talking with us. That kid is a jerk."

Mom pushed back. "I know, son. Just let it go. It will pass." I did let it go, but I decided that very day that I was morally superior to this boy and I would hold a grudge. I decided to play the scene over in my mind, and I did. Repeatedly, I rode the escalator of revenge, rehearsing in my mind how I would cut him down with my eloquent, biting words in front of other people, if the chance ever arose.

Well, the girl quit coming around, and I did not speak with the boy until about a year later. In my first year in high school, to my horror, we were in a class together. Adding insult to injury, I got assigned to do a group exercise with him. I fought with myself about what I should do, what I should say, and how I should act.

When just the two of us finally were face to face, I led out. "I want to say I'm sorry about what happened."

"Me, too," he said. My mom had told me that if I ever had the chance I should take the lead. I didn't want to agree with what she said at the time, but when it was thrust upon me, I went first. We even rode bikes together a couple times after that.

Attorney and peacemaking advocate Ken Sande says if we insist on judging and condemning others we really do have to think we're better than others. We have to think, "I have a right to judge you because I am morally superior." Or, "I have a right to hold a grudge against you because I am morally superior." And even, "I have a right to nurse my bitterness because I am morally superior to you."

Of course, we always try to hide that last phrase in the shadows, don't we? But if we bring it into the light, we are forced to see the arrogance and self-righteousness that fuels our judging.

The truth is that "as far as it depends on us we should live peace with all people," (Romans 12:20). Some things are just out of our hands. But one thing within our power is asking God to wash our self-righteousness away and replace it with a humility that leaves no room for grudges or bitterness.

Can you think of anyone in your life that has been patient, forbearing and loving toward you, in spite of some pretty awful things you have done? Feels pretty good, doesn't it. Here's one thing I am sure of: None of us will break free of the insidious attitude of judging others until we unveil and confess our delusion of moral superiority.

If you really want to get theological, thank God that although he is perfectly holy and has every right to condemn you for your shortcomings, he instead judged his son in your place so that he could shower you with undeserved kindness, mercy and forgiveness.

Is it easy to let go of a grudge or stop feeling bitterness, especially if you have nursed these feelings for a long time? Hardly ever! Only God can give us the grace to give food and drink to our enemy. Only God can etch these biblical words on our hearts: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Don Follis has been a pastor in Champaign-Urbana for more than 30 years. He has mentored more than 200 pastors and missionaries throughout the United States. He can be reached at donscolumn@gmail.com.

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