If Writing This Post Hurts You, Have I Sinned?
As many of us know, the worst sin of all is hurting someone else.
Unfortunately, not everything that we know is true, and this is one of those things. I instinctively lived this way for years, not really realizing that I had this belief embedded in me. I still react that way a fair amount of the time, though some of the layers of nonsense have been peeled away from it.
Hurting someone certainly can be a sin, but it may not be. The act of causing pain is not inherently evil or sinful. There are numerous situations when hurting someone is in reality the most loving thing in the world to do. One of the most obvious ones is surgery. The doctor cuts into a person’s flesh in order to set something right so that it can heal. Other ways might not be so obvious. A parent sets limits on a child, and the child goes crazy in response. It might feel to the parent like she’s hurting her kid, but that’s rarely the case, and even if it is, boundaries and limits are good for kids. Letting them stuff themselves with candy until they’re sick only causes more problems.
Telling someone the truth can cause all sorts of hurt, and sometimes it’s good and sometimes it isn’t. And even when it is good, it can sometimes still be done in a way that isn’t loving – cutting to hurt instead of to heal, or maybe a blend of both. Still, not telling someone something that could save them trouble in the future, isn’t that a good wound? Proverbs even notes that “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (NASB)
I think there’s a deeper issue in play, though. I think we all know everything I’ve just written. I think almost anyone could have said the same thing. So if we all know this, why don’t some of us know this? Why do we live differently?
I think the belief that hurting someone else is a terrible thing, maybe even the cardinal sin, is a reaction to our own fear. Suppose we do hurt someone. What happens? There’s the possibility that they will hurt back. In fact, I think many of us have learned to anticipate this possibility and guard against it. Oh, we didn’t sit and analyze anything. We just saw it happen many times over the years, and we just sort of absorbed it. Albert Bandura, famous for social learning theory, says one of those obvious things that we don’t always recognize: we learn by experience and by watching what happens to ourselves and others. That learning isn’t necessarily an intellectual assent, though. Most of what we learn is instinctive. And we’ve experienced people lashing out at us when we hurt them, so we stop doing anything that might even approach hurting them. And then, just to seal things up a bit, sometimes we call it being nice or even loving. But really, underneath all of this, we’re still afraid.
The most often repeated command in scripture is “Do not be afraid.” I don’t think that’s a divine, “Stop it!” I think it’s a divine reassurance and an invitation to trust Him. It’s an invitation to open up to the truth that we are afraid and to maybe look to see if that fear reflects reality and whether or not we have to be bound by it. And sometimes it’s an invitation to keep moving, even if there is fear we can’t simply banish.
Many people are afraid to hurt because we fear we will be hurt in return. There are times, though, that not hurting now just causes more hurt later. And by building up more hurt, that’s more of a sin than just causing the initial hurt in the first place, isn’t it?
But we did cause hurt. And thankfully He didn’t retaliate. Maybe if we start from there, we can risk now and then and relearn to not be so afraid.
Gentle God, sometimes it is paralyzing, the thought of doing something that hurts someone. And sometimes I just avoid it without even thinking about it. Either way, there’s still fear in there. Give me the courage to recognize that fear and admit that it’s there. Help me not to run away from what may be loving just because it causes problems. And help me to risk causing a wound when You call me to in love. Grant me the grace to move through and beyond the fear instead of just running away from it that You may be glorified and that Your kingdom may be manifested by the love we have for one another. Be blessed in us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.