Church hurt is talked about a lot these days. In some ways it should be no surprise, given the fact that the church is full of sinners. But some of these hurts are especially damaging—when it’s discovered that a beloved pastor was hiding scandalous sin, when a repentant wanderer is shunned instead of welcomed back, when slander spreads like gangrene. The repercussions of such grievous hurt can ripple for years.
It seems though, that church hurt is usually discussed from the perspective of those who have left the church altogether or at least the local church where they were a member. But that doesn’t give a full picture. Sometimes, it’s the people left behind—the familiar faces still filling the pews—who were hurt by those who stormed out.
For instance, a member stops coming to church—when you try to get together, they keep canceling plans—and then a long friendship unexpectedly ends with the accusation that you stopped caring about them after they left, when really it seems the other way around.
Or a member who used to attend your small group—the one you laughed with, prayed with, and welcomed into your home—suddenly leaves with a hurl of complaints and seems to relish every opportunity to slander.
Or a member walks away from the faith altogether, then claims she always felt judged. But you don’t understand how this could be true, when you remember comforting her crying confessions of sin with the promise of Jesus’ abundant grace and forgiveness.
Situations like these leave us hurt and flabbergasted by the drastic rewriting of history. It’s not that we imagine ourselves sinless, but we’re confused when the people who left the most searing wounds are the ones who claim they’ve been hurt. This is especially troubling when they hightail and leave without sharing their offenses or even attempting to reconcile.
How are we to respond when this happens?
Our natural reaction might be to retaliate. We want justice and refuse to be the victim of false accusations. We will not sit idly by while someone blatantly lies (at worst) or grossly misconstrues (at best) from afar. It’s not fair.
When those inclinations well up within us, we must look to Jesus.
Jesus was misunderstood, misrepresented, falsely accused, and betrayed. His own family called him crazy. His disciples abandoned him in his time of greatest need. His closest friend denied even knowing him.
And still, he went to the cross for them. He made a way for them to be forgiven and redeemed. “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:23-24
He healed those who hurt him.
Those of us who’ve experienced church hurt from those who left it certainly can’t accomplish what Jesus did—we’re no saviors. But we can intercede on behalf of those who hurt us. We can pray for them to experience the goodness and loving-kindness of God. We can pray for the transforming work of the gospel in their lives. We can pray for their earthly joy and eternal blessing. We can pray for God to heal whatever is hurting in their hearts, even when their perspective is skewed and their blame is unfounded.
And every time we’re tempted to resent the hurt, we can entrust ourselves to God. Each battle against bitterness is an offering of worship to him. Each time we hold our tongues from gossip is an offering of worship to him. Each time we resist the urge to retaliate is an offering of worship to him.
It is painful, but “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:3-4)
We’ll never move past these hurts if we set our eyes horizontally. Sometimes injustice prevails, false accounts aren’t rescinded, and rewritten history isn’t corrected. On a human level, it’s not fair. But when we set our eyes upon Jesus—looking only to honor Him, looking only to follow in His example, looking only to the extravagant grace He’s lavished upon us—our hearts can love those who hurt us. When our hope is set on Him, we can trust that justice will ultimately prevail, every wrong will be set right, and every fractured Christian relationship will be reconciled forever in heaven.