What would you have done?

We recently went on a river cruise with two other couples up the Danube in Eastern Europe. We traveled through majestic cities, quaint little villages and beautiful scenic countryside. As we enjoyed all the incredible sites, we also saw sites that told the story of the harsh WWII history that ravaged much of this area. On our last day we visited the Dachau Concentration camp. It was sobering to walk through the barracks, view the gas chamber and the haunting crematoriums. The audio tour provided stories in the words of some of the survivors that told of the harsh treatment by the guards, the severe living conditions, the torture, and deprivation. The dramatic contrast of the splendor of the surrounding countryside and the oppressive history was not lost. My mind anguished with the thought that average people who were living normal family lives before the war, became the same guards that ultimately inflicted such atrocities on their fellow man. How could a person descend to the depths of evil to torture and kill another person? God’s heart had to be breaking to see the sinfulness of man.

Just as there was a stark contrast in the sites we saw, there was a distinct difference in how people responded to the WWII atrocities. While some participated in imposing the cruelty, others (like Corrie ten Boom and her family) sacrificed to lovingly protect others from harm which ultimately caused their own demise. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”John 15:13

As I reflected on this significant disparity, I righteously told myself, I would never have chosen to do evil, but would have sacrificially done what was right. God quickly reminded me that sometimes the choices are easier to make when the consequences are sharply defined.  God humbled me by bringing to mind that I do things that break His heart too. I have choices between good and evil every day on a much smaller scale to make in my relationships (especially in marriage), and I don’t always make choices that are pleasing to God.
When I get irritated, frustrated or hurt by others, do I always respond in the most loving way? Do I make decisions that take care of other’s wants and needs, or do I sometimes selfishly meet my own desires and needs first. Am I intentional about finding ways to sacrificially love, or do I just thoughtlessly react and respond to where life takes me. Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:37-39

I like to live by the philosophy, if I am anxious to confront someone in anger, either it is not the right time, or I am not the right person. However, just the other day, I took something my husband said to me in a wrong way. I snapped back in anger. I immediately felt bad for my extreme reaction. I felt even worse when I realized I was mistaken about his entire intent. How did I so quickly become this ugly person? I love my husband. I always want to be loving towards him. It was shocking how in an instant, I became someone I didn’t even like. The truth is, we all have a sin nature. It is the little failures, if left unchecked, that ultimately lead to the big breakdowns. Just as normal people didn’t instantly become evil WWII guards, divorce and affairs don’t happen over night. They stem from small negative behaviors, continual bad choices, and extreme displays of selfishness. We all have the capacity to make good and evil choices. When we fall short (and we all will), we need to immediately repent. When provoked by others, we need to choose to respond with goodness over evil. The only way we can overcome evil with goodness is to stay in communion with God’s Holy Spirit so that we can live out the fruit of the Spirit towards all whom we encounter. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

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