I have been thinking. How did hate get such a foothold? Do people just wake up hate-filled one morning? Doesn’t it have to begin somewhere? Can we just say ‘don’t hate each other’ and it goes away? If only it were that simple! No, hate doesn’t just appear on the scene. It grows…from a seed of resentment, which develops into bitterness, which then blossoms into hatred. Hate, as we have seen so clearly in recent days, brings death. This is not a life cycle…it is a cycle of death. If you trace any conflict back, it usually starts with resentment. It doesn’t matter if it is a marital spat, a sibling argument, a race war, or a terrorist attack…resentment is the seed.
Resentment means the act of feeling something again. When you break the word down the root is French- sentir-meaning to smell, to touch, and to feel…all together at once. It comes from the word senses. The prefix re– means to do again. The suffix ment– means the act of. In Latin, sent– means to go to mentally. Therefore, the act of feeling something again…and going there mentally over and over is what we do when we are resentful. We rehash and review in our minds, and we feel the ‘thing’ all over again.
Countries can resent one another. People groups. Men resent women and women resent men. Blacks resent whites and whites resent blacks. People resent politicians and politicians resent the people. Terrorist groups resent the West and the West resents terrorist groups. Republicans resent Democrats and Democrats resent Republicans. We have a resentment problem. We expect people to respond and react in the ways we do, and when they do not we feel it all again…over and over…and mentally we build our case. Eventually, if not thwarted, the seed comes to full bloom. Death quickly follows, and the death cycle starts over again.
The issue is that no two people, or groups of people, will ever see things in the same way. We bring our diverse backgrounds, and past experiences to every thought we think. We look through our own lenses, and therefore we cannot possibly feel what others feel. We can try to borrow their glasses to look through (that certainly would help some to look at the other’s point of view) but they are not OUR glasses and so we can only relate up to a point. I am a white middle class woman who tries to understand other perspectives, but my family did not endure slavery. I cannot fully grasp oppression. I can apologize for it and my part in it. I can change my views of what it would mean to be bullied for generations. But I have not lived it. Therefore, I cannot fully understand the anger that is simmering below the surface. I will never be able to FEEL it. However, resentment demands the other party FEEL what we feel, otherwise they are invalid and cannot be trusted. Resentment is a harsh task master making requests of us that can never be met, and once the seed is sown, bitterness takes root in our hearts and the deed is done. The roots spread like wildfire and easily go from person to person like a virus.
The good news is that forgiveness travels in a similar way. The seed of forgiveness gives birth to hope, which brings forth freedom. For- meaning before. Give- meaning to give up. Ness-meaning a state of. Forgiveness is the state of giving up the desire and power to punish before it is deserved. I believe that forgiveness is harder than resentment, because it has to happen BEFORE it is felt. If I experienced the feeling first it would be easy to let things go. But the idea that I still desire for others to ‘know how I feel’ before I am willing to move beyond my hurt is not forgiveness, it is resentment. “I forgive her, but she…..” is resentment masquerading as forgiveness. There are no qualifications on giving up the desire to punish. If we want to be free, it begins with forgiveness. If we want peace, it begins with forgiveness.
I hear your voices, “What? Are you crazy? Forgive ________?” (You fill in the blank with whatever people group you despise the most.) I ask you, don’t you ever get tired of rehashing events over and over in your mind? Don’t you ever just want it all to be over and done? I can tell you that I am exhausted from carrying my resentment around with me everywhere. It is a heavy load to bear.
I think of Stephen who was in the midst of being stoned to death when he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Or Jesus, as he was being CRUCIFIED, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” What kind of love is this that looks beyond the behaviors and into the souls of enemies with compassion? How can I have that kind of love? Is it even possible? I can tell you that it is not a natural thing. It is supernatural to love like that. Forgiveness takes a supernatural force intervening in my life. It is an act of faith to change my will. It does not come from my emotions. I can choose to forgive, even when I do not feel forgiveness. In fact, I am commanded to do so.
Pursue peace with all men, as well as holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Be careful that no one falls short of the grace of God, so that no root of bitterness will spring up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14
The resentment issue can be solved when I stop rehashing and reliving. When I choose forgiveness and refuse to push the repeat button, I stop the cycle of death. I choose life instead, and in doing so I find freedom and peace that our world is looking for so desperately.