I’d really rather just leave it alone
overlooking and forgiveness
One of the joys of my working with PeaceWise is how it’s helped me to engage with individuals seeking a godly and biblical way of managing a relational challenge, either in the church or in the workplace. When actions or words from someone lead to strain, they ask, “How can I move forward in a way that honours God, even if there’s no obvious conflict?”
Moving forward in most relational challenges often involves forgiveness, but as we start discussing forgiveness, the person I’m seeking to support can begin to minimise or excuse the negative behaviour of the other person. They say they can’t identify anything to forgive them for, or that the other person has no idea of the impact they’ve had. They’d rather just “leave it alone”. Sometimes they supply valid reasons for the other’s behaviour. And, after all, they haven’t actually “sinned” …
me too …
I’m familiar with this tendency in myself. When someone does something that annoys me or negatively affects my work, I want to ignore it. Sometimes it is a small thing, and I don’t want to talk to them about it. I can see why they said or did it, so why make a mountain out of a molehill? After all, I’m a peacemaker. I should choose to overlook and move on. After all, the Bible does specifically encourage overlooking in the face of being wronged: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11).
But it isn’t always that straightforward. Sometimes, I don’t just move on. I move away. I keep my distance. I’m not as comfortable as I used to be with them. When this happens, I have to ask myself … have I really overlooked in the sense the Bible is encouraging?
In the Everyday Peacemaking training, we talk about the times when it isn’t appropriate to overlook (e.g. an ongoing pattern of serious hurt), but that’s not what I mean here. Here I’m addressing the times when it is appropriate to overlook, and we think we’ve done it. But … something still rankles.
confusing overlooking and escape
What we’ve probably done is confused the peacemaking response of “overlooking” with the peacefaking response of “flight” (or maybe even “denial”). This is where we need to consider whether we have forgiven, because overlooking is really a form of forgiveness. But, if someone hasn’t actually “sinned” against us, and we think that they had no intention of hurting us, what do we forgive?
What we’re forgiving is the impact that they have had on us. We are dealing with the negative consequences of their actions on us, regardless of their intentions. Luke tells us in his gospel that Jesus looked down at the soldiers and prayed ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:24). Forgiveness flowed from Jesus to those who were unaware of the impact of their actions – but forgiveness was still both relevant and appropriate for their conduct.
the key to overlooking
When we choose to overlook, we are choosing to forgive. Seeing the need for forgiveness in the overlooking response is one of the keys that helps us face that in the everyday hurts of life, it is often the best response. It is also the best way to immediately receive the healing and comfort of God.
And it is a key to discerning whether we are overlooking or running away. As I mentioned earlier, in our Everyday Peacemaking training, we go into more detail about when it is appropriate to overlook and when overlooking may not be the best peacemaking response. I encourage you to take some time to reflect on any relationship you have that feels uncomfortable. Whether the person is a Christian, whether the relationship is in the workplace, ask yourself “Is there something that I thought I’d overlooked that I need to forgive?” Ask Jesus the peacemaker to guide you by his Spirit to the peacemaking response that will best glorify God.
This article was written by Deborah Bensted. Deborah joined us in 2017 as Minute Secretary to the National Board. She originally trained as a Nurse and Midwife before moving into a variety of IT roles. She completed a Bachelor of Theology at Morling College, and is experienced in leadership and adult education.
Being proficient with technology, she has often helped PeaceWise with database and online processes and the technical development of the first iteration of the PeaceWiseKids program.
She is currently on the pastoral staff of St Matthews Anglican Church Manly, where Biblical peacemaking is central to her ministry and practice.