“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." - Exodus 23:9
I've had one of those weeks marked with some discouraging moments, so I was already in a place of weakness when the latest temptation came. I had read that verse above and the one before it during my readings through Exodus. “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exodus 22:21). It had stood out to me because God was repeating it to the Hebrews after they were freed from Egypt. In my journals I had written, "Lord You do not want us to sin against others in the way we were sinned against. It especially grieves Your heart, because we sin according to knowledge - we know the anguish we are causing since we have been there. Our hearts should not be hardened or want to repay, but to have a heart of compassion."
Just one day later, God allowed a situation to test my heart to obey in this matter. Someone I cared for very much but who would not respond back to my efforts to reach out, responded back to me by email out of the blue months later. They apologized and asked my forgiveness for their silence. But oh how my heart responded with coldness. I refused to respond for two days. My heart wanted to repay and allow them to experience and feel the pain I had suffered by their silence. I didn't want to just grant forgiveness so quickly. I wanted to teach them a lesson. I felt like, "After all the pain I have experienced and it's supposed to be all washed away by one apology and acknowledgement. I can never get those months back, and the pain has caused its' wounds." And my cry to God was "Where is the justice Lord?"
That's really the heart of the question, do we believe God takes notice of sin? Does He leave it unpunished? He promises we will all give an account before Him for everything we have done. Do I truly believe that? Because if I do, then that is where I can have my peace that everyone else must give an account too. God will make things right in the end. His justice demands it. And when I put forth my own justice and punishment, I am declaring to God by my actions, that I don't believe that truth.
Once God spoke that truth to my heart, He then spoke the deeper one, which is a lack of love and unforgiveness. He brought that verse in Exodus to my mind while driving and I was so convicted of my attitude and actions. What great wickedness to cry out to God for relief from the things people do to hurt us and then turn around and do the very same things to another. We who know how deep the wounds can go. And that is what I was guilty of doing. In that moment, I could see how the cycle of violence so easily gets perpetuated onto others, like when people are abused and then they turn into abusers. But more importantly, God already knew our propensity as humans to do this to others, that's why He gave the command twice thousands of years ago. The Israelites would never be able to repay the Egyptians for the sins done against them, but their sin nature, like ours would want to repay that debt onto another.
But here is where the ways of God must come into our lives. We give the debt, ours and theirs to God alone and choose to forgive, just as we have been forgiven. We have wounded our Lord many, many times and deeply, yet He doesn't require us to be punished first before He grants forgiveness to us. Is my justice greater than God's? No way! I cannot freely accept His forgiveness and withhold it from another. In obedience I reached out to this person, confessing the reason for my sinful delay and sending a blessing to this person. It doesn't matter what someone else has done, the Lord is concerned in that moment what we shall do. God is always perfecting us to become like His Son Jesus. I don't want to hurt the Lord by my sin and then casually repent as if I didn't wound Him too. Christ is my example of how to respond to others, because He is gracious towards me, even when I deserve evil in return.
You may be dealing with unforgiveness and wanting to repay someone who hurt you as you try to collect a debt that can't ever be repaid. The wounds are there, the time and opportunities are lost forever. And Christ knows what that is like, He will always bear the scars in heaven of how we wounded Him by our sin. His wound will never leave, but ours will. Your spouse, child or friend may have been the one to hurt you. Now you must choose to forgive and your actions must demonstrate that forgiveness. It will feel like death, because you are dying. Dying to the old life, dying to your justice and dying to the flesh. But as we surrender and take steps of obedience, God promises His grace to give us the love and compassion to respond with kindness and blessing. He will heal the wounds. He will bring new life from our deaths because He is the Resurrection and the Life.