A doctor once made the comment: “Resentment puts the whole physical and mental system on a war basis instead of a peace basis”. How terrible it is to live with lingering resentment. It seems to take over the lives of many people who have been hurt, and are not prepared to let it go.
C.S. Lewis wrote the book The Four Loves and he said, “If anyone says he does not know the pleasures of resentment he is either a liar or a saint”. What did he mean by ‘pleasures of resentment’? In some bizarre way do we get pleasure from a burning resentment? I think so. Lingering resentments are toxins in our lives. They fester, hinder growth and happiness, and spiral outward as crankiness toward people we don’t even know. Many of us are harbouring multiple resentments in our lives at any one time.
What Resentment Can Do to Us
What is it? A lingering ill will towards someone—a feeling you have been hurt and you can’t forget about it. Resentment is an emotion that we often feel without fully recognising it for what it is, or even being able to properly put the name to it.
There is no end to the number of issues, large and small, that have fired a sense of resentment in people. Resentment can sneak up on the best prepared of all of us. It is how we handle it that matters—how and how soon. The longer we let resentment linger, the more powerful it becomes. Have you had deep-seated resentment? What did you do with them?
Selwyn Hughes wrote delightful Bible study notes for most of his life before he died in 2006. In one of his daily readings he tells of a missionary who returned home because of a mysterious illness that his doctor could not diagnose. Finally, it was worked out he had some type of lingering resentment. Here’s what the missionary said much later on:
What my doctor did not know was that I was harbouring a deep resentment against a colleague on the mission field. I came to a point where I knew I could not go on like this—the resentment was killing me. So I surrendered to God and within days I was well again.
When his doctor saw him he said with a laugh, “I don’t know what has happened to you, but it seems you are well enough now to go and dig trenches”.
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The Story of Joseph
In the Old Testament we read about Joseph, the favourite son of Jacob, who received the multicoloured coat and was hated by his jealous brothers, who threw Joseph down a pit to die. When the brothers thought better of it, they hauled Joseph out and sold him as a slave to some traders on their way to Egypt.
Joseph was a bright, good-looking fellow and he gets his first job in Egypt working for Potiphar, a regent of the Pharaoh. Potiphar’s wife wants to seduce Joseph and when he refuses, she runs out and yells rape. On her word, Joseph is thrown into jail, even though completely innocent. Can you see how resentment could grow in Joseph’s life?
Later, Joseph gets a chance to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and he is so successful Pharaoh lets him out of jail and Joseph is made master over all of Egypt. He virtually has the same power as the Pharaoh. All this happens just in God’s time, you could say, so when his brothers, sent to buy grain in Egypt because of a severe famine in Israel, Joseph has power to meet their need and sell them grain.
Now Joseph was no saint, but he did have a strong faith in God’s providence. His resentment was such that he could have sent his brothers off hungry, with nothing to bring home, but because he believed God had a plan for him to be in power and to be in a position to help his family. But the resentment and hurt he had was let go and he was able to reconcile with his brothers and even see his father Jacob again. And the proof of his healing was that he forgave his brothers from the heart!
The Way to Overcome Resentment
Faith in God overcame deep resentment and hurt. I think most of the problems of the world, divisions between people, and wars, are the result of deep-seated hurts and resentments. Only faith in a loving God, or those who incarnate the presence of a God of love in the world (us!), can heal those resentments and open the way to forgiveness and reconciliation.
The only way to overcome resentment is to love those who offend us. If we can’t love people who do wrong to us, then it will be impossible to truly overcome resentment. Jesus commands us to love those who offend us in Matthew 5:43-48:
You have been taught to love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you this: love your enemies. Pray for those who torment you and persecute you, and in so doing, you become children of your Father in Heaven. He, after all, loves each of us – good and evil, kind and cruel. He causes the sun to rise and shine on evil and good alike. He causes the rain to water the field of the righteous and the fields of the sinner. It is easy to love those who love you – even a tax collector can love those who love him. And it is easy to greet your friends. But you are called to something higher “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.
You may be thinking, This is impossible! Well, you are right. It is impossible if we try to love our enemies with a human love. But Jesus is not talking about a human love. He specifically says we are not to love others simply in the human way, which is to love those who love us in return. Instead, Jesus asks us to love people God’s way. God loved us even though we were sinners. He did not ignore our sin, but demonstrated his love for us by dying for us on the cross.
This is what it means to love our enemies with God’s love: we should seek to bless them even though they may harm us. Don’t say, I can’t help being resentful. It’s my nature. God’s grace is available to you right now. It’s there for you every time you are hurt. Ephesians 4:31 tells us,“Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others.”