“If You Only Understood…” Using History as an Excuse for Sin
But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph 4:20-32)
We have written other posts in which we dealt with typical excuses the abuser makes for his or her evil actions. Recently we published this one that reminded us not to give a get-out-of-jail-free card to an abuser just because they come from an abusive background. Here I want to talk about the same subject, but with broader application for all of us.
I have met numbers of professing Christians who characteristically exercise “bad tempers.” They are known for flying off the handle in anger, lashing out at others, most any time that they are told something they don’t want to hear. Or if they are denied something that they want. Most churches have such people in membership. “Oh yes, Jane. She is a touchy one alright. Don’t get on her wrong side. But we just love her anyway.” That kind of thing you see.
And many times such people’s sin (and that is what it is, sin) is excused because they have some history of mistreatment by others. “Yes, he is a real dragon quite often but then he had a really rough and abusive childhood.” Or, “we must be patient with her. She is very selfish but if you knew her background you would understand.” This kind of thing is very, very common. We are told that sin is to be excused because of the sinning person’s past.
Now, certainly trauma and abuse affect a person. Fear easily morphs into anger. There really are such things as emotional “triggers” that can set off various reactions (usually beginning with fear) in a person and these things are definitely understandable. You beat and abuse an animal over time and you shouldn’t be surprised if it snarls and snaps at you. Nevertheless, when I sin against someone by lashing out at them or hating them in my mind or being in some other way unkind to them, I am responsible for my sin. The Lord calls me to repent of it. I cannot use my past to justify and excuse my sin. I CAN perhaps use my past to help me UNDERSTAND why I launch out into sin in certain scenarios, but not for the purpose of excusing myself, but for the purpose of helping me see why a particular temptation comes my way in the first place so I can be better prepared to stand against it next time.
Trauma and abuse at the hands of the wicked is actually meant by the Lord to cause us to be MORE understanding and kind to people. For instance –
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19:33-34)
You even see a very similar dynamic in Jesus’ suffering (without sin by Him of course) –
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)
See? The Israelites were abused big time by Pharaoh. But that suffering is to lead them to have more compassion on others in a like situation, not to excuse them for being hateful toward others.
Using our background of troubles as an excuse for sinning against others is a real trap and pitfall. It is a place we just really do not want to go, and those who do can spend years and years in that snare. It prevents us from even recognizing love when it is dumped in our lap. It prevents us from loving others.
This is why good, truthful therapy is so helpful. For the Christian, much of that therapy can come from God’s Word shining a light on what is really going on in our minds. We can benefit greatly from getting help from people who have been down that traumatic, abusive road themselves. Not so we can justify our sin, but (I say again) so that we can better see ourselves, understand what is going on in us, and realize finally that we do not have to keep getting set off like a keg of gunpowder each time some person or situation lights a fuse.
No, this does not mean that we naively and foolishly trust/unconditionally forgive/reconcile with people who are our enemies. If you have read this blog for much time at all you know that we would never teach that nonsense. An enemy remains an enemy as long as their wicked maliciousness is pointed at us. But what we are saying is that we must not fall into the trap of justifying our own sin [or anyone’s] just because of what happened to us before. Sin is sin and it is never excusable. It is “forgiveable” when we confess it to the Lord and ask Him to deliver us from temptation.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Mat 6:9-13)