Why We Need to Help Those Who Have Failed
If you’re struggling to forgive someone, then keep reading. If you have failed, and have hurt someone, and you don’t know how to move forward, then keep reading.
I was sitting in a group of about ten guys, and we were talking about the recent parade massacre in Highland Park, Illinois. This tragedy happened just down the road from us, and some of the guys were struggling with their feelings of anger toward the young man who murdered so many innocent people, including children. Some didn’t know how they could forgive such a person.
Recalling something I remember Plato saying, I asked the group, “Would you rather be the person who committed the crime of all those murders, or would you rather be one of the victims? In other words, would you rather be the killer or have been killed?” As I predicted, none of the guys in the group hesitated. To a man, each one said he would rather have been the victim of the crime than the perpetrator. You probably feel the same way. In fact, when I asked the same question in another group, a thirty year old male told me why he would rather be the victim than the perpetrator: “Because I couldn’t live with myself.”
Then I told them what Plato had said thousands of years ago, “He who commits an injustice is made far more wretched than the one who suffers it.” Plato said it’s worse to be the perpetrator than the victim. Plato said it’s better to be sinned against than to be the sinner. Can this really be true?
Even if we’ve never read Plato, we all intuitively know that it is true. Think of any crime, even horrendous ones; we would most likely rather be the victim than the one who did the crime. One can’t possibly fathom what victims go through, the lifetime of shame and uncontrollable PTSD, loneliness and rejection, but, the perpetrator becomes “far more wretched” in a different sense. Sin twists and deforms and ruins the sinner more than it does the one sinned against. That’s why Jesus died for sinners, not victims, per se.
Among other things, sin is its own worst punishment. We talk a lot about how terrible it is for victims of crimes, but do we consider the crime from the perpetrator’s perspective? He is made far more wretched, according to Plato, than the victim. In the end, sin will do more damage to his life than anyone else’s. He will eventually turn into a kind of Gollum from Lord of the Rings, a morbid, distorted, obsessed cruel shadow of a person, not a real one.
I know this all sounds very controversial, and it is, but, as the men around the table with me admitted, it’s true: it’s better to be the victim than the perpetrator. Perpetrators face the fury of God’s judgment, the devastation of their own souls, the rejection of society, and the natural consequences of failure.
I say all this to make a crucial point: if perpetrators don’t deal with their sins in the right way, then things will become much worse for everyone, and nobody wants that. If you don’t handle your failure in the right way, then you will go on to commit many more sins and crimes. You will hurt even more people and do even more damage. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to deal with the weight of sin on your own. You can’t do it. It’s too much for you to bear and it will only end up crushing you. Having become wretched, you will do wretched things. Sin is a God-sized problem, and, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said repeatedly over the decades of his ministry, sin was the hardest problem God ever had to deal with.
That’s why we need to keep our eyes on perpetrators, and make sure they get the help they need, because if they can’t deal with their sin in the right way, then it is going to affect all of us. It’s like one person in your town who has a house full of toxic uranium: if the whole community doesn’t handle it the right way, then all are doomed. Sin spreads much worse and is more deadly than any chemical or disease. Crime only leads to more crime—unless it’s dealt with in the right way.
How to Handle Your Failure
So, how can you deal with failure? If you are the perpetrator, what is the best way to handle your sin so that you don’t do something worse? And, maybe, so that you actually heal? Is that even possible?
I’ve taken the word ‘failure’ and turned it into an acronym, to help you navigate through it. While I would love to go into much more detail about each step, I’ll only give you a brief description, with the hopes that you ask me for more. Eventually, I would love to write a book on this subject, in order to help people with their failure, because, as I said, the whole world depends on it.
Picture each of these as rungs on a ladder to help you get out of the pit of failure. You have to start with the first rung on the bottom (Forgiveness) and climb your way to the top (Empathy),
You have to find God’s forgiveness; and, you have to forgive yourself. You can’t move on in a healthy way before you find forgiveness. This is the step of humility: admitting you don’t have what it takes, that you're just a human, and that you need help. Forgiveness cuts the weight from your back so you can begin the healing process.
Acknowledge my wrongs
You have to come clean, with no minimization, projection, denial, or excuses. You have to own your sins and failures. You have to stop lying, sneaking, and being deceptive, because, if you can’t talk about something, then it has power over you. When you lie, then you hide and live in a bricked-up world of shame, only to engage in risky behavior again in order to deal with the pain. Then you lie to cover it up, and the cycle continues. So, you have to tell the truth.
Investigate my sins
You need to figure out what your sins mean, not just what they are. Among other things, your sins are a symptom of something, what is it? In a strange way, your sins are trying to tell you something about yourself that you need to hear. You have valid needs that you’re handling in an illegitimate way. There’s some part of you that you’ve left behind that you need to recover and give a seat at the table of your life. It’s calling your attention through your sins. God makes it safe for us to be honest and ask Him to search us, to reveal to us what’s really going on, and how we’re secretly trying to justify ourselves.
Learn my patterns
Your particular sin or failure didn’t appear out of nowhere; there are predictable patterns to your life. You may not realize it now, but, if you study yourself, you can learn them. Even more, you can learn what it looks and feels like to live in the best version of yourself, the so-so version of yourself, and the worst version of yourself.
Understand my shadow
Your shadow is everything about yourself you do not like and that you reject. Each person suppresses his or her shadow, but we need to learn how to embrace it, make friends with it, and employ it. This is part of our integration. You cannot do this without the gospel, for the gospel shows us how to accept the Prodigal inside ourselves.
Reframe and take responsibility
You need to learn how to reframe the moments of your day that press your hot buttons. You also need to stop making excuses for your failures, stop beating yourself up for them, and stop engaging in self-pity; instead, you need to take responsibility. Stop taking yourself so seriously and start taking God seriously.
Empathize with those offended
Finally, you need to learn to empathize with those who are offended by your sin and failure. You need to put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel. You need to ‘hold’ their pain, just as a mother holds a child in her belly.
I would love to share more about the FAILURE acronym, but I want to keep this brief. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to see more of this content, then please consider becoming a BS Crew member; you can learn more about how to support us at https://www.patreon.com/bumperstickerfaith.