The Problem of the Righteous Unrighteous

Okay, this may be in the wrong place, or maybe not, I'm not sure. But there's a problem that has surfaced in my life, and in the life of others I know, and if you want a well-described version of it, you might see Philip Yancey's new book, Where the Light Fell. It's a memoir centered around his family--particularly his relationship with his mother and brother.

The problem is this: What do you do, as a Christian and a family member, when you love someone who is at the same time very harmful and very convinced of his/her own righteousness? Like, permanently? Unchangeably (well, humanly speaking)?

Said people are often either Christian ministers or hold a prominent role in the church, and their identities are woven around their righteousness, and so they totally cling to it, I get that. But somehow, God knows how, they've missed all the stuff in the Gospels etc. about love and mercy and compassion. And their lives make this clear, although sometimes only in the family arena--which is really freaky. (They can do pretty wonderful work with others.)

Specifically, I'm wondering about forgiveness. I'm a Christian (whatever they think) and so I'm bound to forgive as I would be forgiven. But how does that get expressed in a situation like this? I'm pretty sure Jesus doesn't want me to grovel, esp. as I have not done anything worth groveling about, and I think it would just reinforce their perceptions of their own righteousness and my, um, overall permanent and baked-in disgracefulness. And reinforcing a lie is never wise.

On the other hand, staying (as I currently am) in a situation where neither of us has said a word to the other since July and that seems ... not right? (They had a blow-up with my husband about their effect on my life. I was hardly involved at all--the one fought over, not the one fighting. The result was the silent treatment, primarily of me. This is not the first time they've done this, and the last time took a full year to end.)

I mean, do I just call up out of the blue and pretend nothing has happened? And see if they'll seize the chance to erase this episode by just... asking about the garden, or something? (Note: husband has tried this, got very grudging short reply)

If I do this, am I going to cause some sort of harm--reinforce something, or... ?

Do I just let this drag on until they get over whatever they need to get over and decide to make the first move? And does that cause harm?

What happens if somebody dies in the meantime? (My examples are in their mid-70s, as is my husband. I am having surgery in a week. Yes, I know, if it's me it'll solve all my problems. :lol: No, they have no idea I'm having surgery, and frankly, I don't want my first contact with them to be "Hey, I'm having surgery," because that's going to reinforce the whole "See, you call us because you can't cope" model.)

And is there anything anybody can think of that will budge this dynamic in the future, assuming there is a future?

Yancey doesn't seem to have found an answer either. Just keeps talking to both principals in the conflict, over many years, and not getting far. I'm trying the "I wasn't in this fight, I'm not getting involved" bit so far, and not getting anywhere either.
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Comments

  • At a certain point do you have to go Matthew 18:17 on them?
  • I think you do, and you can try. Mine reacts like a buzzsaw when I do that. I mean seriously, I tried it last fall and it was like walking into a helicopter rotor. She shouted over me.
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    Lamb Chopped: I'm wondering about forgiveness. I'm a Christian (whatever they think) and so I'm bound to forgive as I would be forgiven. But how does that get expressed in a situation like this?

    Lamb Chopped, I think it important to make a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation or atonement. Forgiveness does not have to involve an action by both parties, reconciliation does, which makes the latter more difficult to achieve. From what you have written it seems that you have or are ready to forgive, but the sincere reconciliation you seek is not possible because your relative is not in the right place for that to happen. The current situation may be painful to accept but seemingly it's not your fault.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    At a certain point do you have to go Matthew 18:17 on them?

    I wonder about how this could be applied in this situation. Matthew 18 is discourse which tells a christian community how it should be a community that cares for its members (His little ones). The three step disciplinary process of vv 16-17 assumes a situation where the whole congregation can take authority, and not where a prominent member such as a minister is the decision maker.
    So this teaching does not translate well into hierarchical structures.
    To further emphasise the need to be caring the last part of the discourse teaches a level of forgiveness that goes beyond the contemporary Jewish practice that Matthew's audience would be familiar with and warns against a lack of forgiveness.

    I think @Kwesi provides the best approach.

    With the reservation that some hurts make this very difficult and others have told me that this response cannot always be made, one of the approaches that has helped me is this
    https://gordonatkinson.net/rlp-archive/forgiveness
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited October 18
    I think it is permissible to go no-contact. You can forgive someone and still take measures to not be hurt by them again, which is after all providing them occasion to sin.
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    edited October 18
    All good stuff. People, life eh? The reality of theses situations is nothing like fiction or the beatitudes or anything else, any other theory, is it?
  • mousethief wrote: »
    I think it is permissible to go no-contact. You can forgive someone and still take measures to not be hurt by them again, which is after all providing them occasion to sin.

    Yes, this one is a big one for me. But I don't want to confine this thread to my own personal circumstances, which many of you know. I happen to be aware of an individual who is abusive (and how) but not to me, and who fits the specs I mentioned in the OP. I stand in a friend relationship to her--no relative, not pastoral, but both Christians. And so the problem comes up again, because she's clearly not in touch with reality in this major area of her life.
  • Kwesi wrote: »
    Lamb Chopped: I'm wondering about forgiveness. I'm a Christian (whatever they think) and so I'm bound to forgive as I would be forgiven. But how does that get expressed in a situation like this?

    Lamb Chopped, I think it important to make a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation or atonement. Forgiveness does not have to involve an action by both parties, reconciliation does, which makes the latter more difficult to achieve. From what you have written it seems that you have or are ready to forgive, but the sincere reconciliation you seek is not possible because your relative is not in the right place for that to happen. The current situation may be painful to accept but seemingly it's not your fault.

    Like I said just above, I really want to broaden this beyond my personal challenges, but you'll forgive me, I hope, if I illustrate from the cases I know best (which are not all familial).

    I'm not sure I actually AM ready to forgive. If I were, would I not have returned to calling X on the phone as I used to do (though maybe with a caveat of "You start being freaky and I'm hanging up"? At the mo I can't really face it, because even X in a good mood is exhausting. But X has driven off most of her family (this applies to TWO Xes I know) and is in danger of reaping what she's sown, in terms of having a fall and being eaten by her pet cats and such.

    Justice would say "Let the cats have her" and be done.

    Jesus would say ... What?
  • I do not see where forgiveness always means continuing to engage with the other person. There may in fact be those times when doing so is not a good idea. If I continue to engage with you and let you continue to harm me, then that is not good for your soul or my well being. There may even be those times when the offender may say, I don't want or need your forgiveness." My answer could be," Well guess what this is not about you, it is about me and my well being." That said, I have seen those times when forgiveness is offered, and the offender is truly sorry and tries to make amends and a beautiful thing happens. Forgiveness can be a difficult dance to learn, more so with some partners than others.
  • Generally speaking
    Going no-contact seems to be the only way to avoid being repeatedly shouted over.

    But with extended family?
    This gets tough


    No answers!
  • Martin54Martin54 Shipmate
    Kwesi wrote: »
    Lamb Chopped: I'm wondering about forgiveness. I'm a Christian (whatever they think) and so I'm bound to forgive as I would be forgiven. But how does that get expressed in a situation like this?

    Lamb Chopped, I think it important to make a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation or atonement. Forgiveness does not have to involve an action by both parties, reconciliation does, which makes the latter more difficult to achieve. From what you have written it seems that you have or are ready to forgive, but the sincere reconciliation you seek is not possible because your relative is not in the right place for that to happen. The current situation may be painful to accept but seemingly it's not your fault.

    Like I said just above, I really want to broaden this beyond my personal challenges, but you'll forgive me, I hope, if I illustrate from the cases I know best (which are not all familial).

    I'm not sure I actually AM ready to forgive. If I were, would I not have returned to calling X on the phone as I used to do (though maybe with a caveat of "You start being freaky and I'm hanging up"? At the mo I can't really face it, because even X in a good mood is exhausting. But X has driven off most of her family (this applies to TWO Xes I know) and is in danger of reaping what she's sown, in terms of having a fall and being eaten by her pet cats and such.

    Justice would say "Let the cats have her" and be done.

    Jesus would say ... What?

    Jesus would say walk away, unless there are victims who can't. And if you can't stand with them, you notify social services or the cops. Sounds like she's alone. Jesus wouldn't let Himself be exhausted to no good purpose.
  • I think Martin's advice is OK - there are 'shake the dust from your feet' times. But sometimes the difficult people come around, and I think (as I expect you do too) that we have to be ready to not hold a grudge and demand an explanation. That worked for me, more or less, when someone very close didn't speak to me for 2 or 3 years. It made life difficult, especially for someone else elderly who was mixed up in it, but luckily everyone lived through to the end of it and beyond. What caused the reconciliation (aside from the bare fact of a Christmas family get together to which we both subjected ourselves), I will never know - and the person (in my case) doesn't have it in them to do more, in the way of explanation or apology, than the bare fact of the reconciliation. I am grateful for that much; I know they've a lot of baggage and it's too late to do much about it on this side of death.
  • I'd be glad for a reconciliation that basically papered over the huge gaping chasms of things we're never going to fix in this life and allowed us to go back to chatting about our gardens, or what have you. But I'm not sure that I should take the first step. Because of the reasons above--would I be just postively reinforcing super crappy behavior, and would that make me somehow complicit in this ongoing bullshit? Half the time I think no, and half the time I think yes.

    I do think that one of my Xes has it in her head that this is a struggle-to-the-death drama which she must win (ha); and if that's what's going on in her head, what is a simple "Hi, how are you, how are the gardenias" going to turn into in her head? I rather think (now, anyway--ask me tomorrow?) that she will take this as proof that she is righteous and just, and that I have "seen the light" and she did well to punish me, and ought to continue down that path if I (inevitably) provoke her again. Because it's all about being righteous for her.

    Which leads me to think I should NOT call.

    But then I dither again (it's already tomorrow) and wonder if Jesus would say "For fuck's sake, pick up the phone already."

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I imagine that running into her is just out of the question, so what about an inclusion in a group Zoom meeting?
  • She bricks her phone every week (both of my Xes do) and any higher technology is out of the question.
  • I see what you mean. I think my chasing after my difficult-person (which is to say - initiating anything) would have failed in a similar way. I suspect what did it was - enough years apart to digest the (fairly substantial) life changes which started the problem, and enough years apart to feel that further estrangement would 'start to look silly'. I know, I know.

    This is slightly embarrassing to admit, even anonymously, but there was something childlike and 'wanting to be justified' in me which died during those years apart, too - at least as regards that particular relationship. What little we have now is better than what came before, even though there's not so much time left.
  • It sounds like what I would hope for with one of my Xes. I think the "wanting to be justified" dies really hard, and maybe it's died in me (and maybe not, too). But at this point I just feel really, really tired. Don't know if when the pandemic ends and I get some energy back, if that feeling will come back too. I hope not.
  • LeafLeaf Shipmate
    Hello! I'm calling from the Department of Overthinking :smiley: as I see we have another specialist present.

    How are you in any way responsible for what goes on inside X's head? They have choices to make too. They can choose to respond to you based on their own weird need to judge you and overcompensate for your perceived deficits. Jesus prepared you for this one: If they don't want your peace, you get it back and you can take it with you when you go.

    Kwesi was right about the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I think of the latter as being analogous to bridge-building. If they can't build from their side, and keep yelling at you that you are doing it wrong and should do it some other way (their way), it's not going to work. The world is littered with half-built bridges of relationships for which construction may never be completed this side of the eschaton.

    Maybe the forgiveness that's needed here is your need to forgive yourself? For being too tired to deal with yet another form of bullshit in the midst of (gestures broadly) all this. For being afraid of having to try to cope gracefully with a person who is not able to respond appropriately. For not being the Good Shepherd but just another one of his sheep, trying to follow along.
  • Might be. I'll think some more. No doubt some of my problem is an anxiety that wants to "fix" things that may be totally unfixable.
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