Hurting Others Without Knowing
by Edmond Ng
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- Now if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment. (Leviticus 5:17 NAS)
Many of us have encountered similar experiences of doing something wrong without being aware of it. We may not have broken the law unknowingly, but we may sometimes hurt someone unwittingly by what we say or do, or by what we fail to say or do.
Some years ago when my dad passed away without receiving the Lord despite many attempts to speak to him about Christ, I was deeply hurt and in great sorrow. A Christian sister speaking on behalf of the church tried to console me and said, “Who knows? Maybe your dad received the Lord at the last minute, since you have spoken to him about Christ many times.” Such words although may sound sensible, hurt me badly because I knew better, and cannot help but blame myself for not putting enough effort. Like the three friends who hurt Job more than sympathize with and comfort Job (Job 2:11; 22-31), the church sister helped little but hurt me more. I can try to justify myself and blame the failure as due to language barrier, being unable to preach the full gospel message in the only native dialect my dad could understand. The fact however remains—I failed.
Just as saying or doing the wrong thing can hurt others, not saying or doing the right thing can hurt others too. If we ignore or fail to respond to our loved ones when they interact with us or respond nonchalantly without giving full attentiveness to what they are saying, we hurt them. We may sometimes have good reasons for not being very responsive or attentive, such as when we are busy or in the midst of something or when our minds are actively working on jolting down ideas on paper. During such times, we may fail to show care or say a word of encouragement when our loved ones interrupt us, and we often unconsciously put aside what they say to continue with what we are doing. Such momentary slips of attention can lead to colossal repercussion.
Being inattentive or unaware, doing or saying something wrong or not doing or saying what is right, does not give us the right to excuse ourselves as blameless. We may justify ourselves to say it is human to err, but ignorance is unacceptable under any judicial law. ‘Ignorance of the law does not excuse’ or ‘ignorance of the law excuses no one’ is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.
In describing the priesthood of our Lord and the tabernacle, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews mentioned the offering for sins of the people committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7). The Books of the Law—the Pentateuch—also mentioned that “if a person sins and does any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, though he was unaware, still he is guilty and shall bear his punishment” (Leviticus 5:17 NAS). This may sound a little harsh today and we say we are under grace, but as believers, this is a principle we should enforce and put in practice. Why should others suffer because of our words, action or lack of action? We ought not to put others through unnecessary pain because of our insensitivity and ignorance.
Let us therefore not excuse ourselves for hurting others because of ignorance. Like the woman and her friend who paid the fine despite being unaware of the law, let us find ways to make restitution for causing hurt to others (Luke 19:8-9). We should also come before God to ask for forgiveness and request His mercy, especially for those whom we have hurt and are no longer able to make restitution (Numbers 5:7-8).
Dear Lord, forgive us for the many times we unknowingly hurt others by our speech, action or inaction. Help us not to excuse ourselves from the sins and hurts we committed out of ignorance, Lord, but to find ways to make restitution for the wrong we did to others. For the ones we can no longer contact or are unaware we have hurt them, Lord, in Your mercy and grace, comfort them and heal them of their pain. Renew and sanctify us Lord that we may be more attentive to Your Holy Spirit from now on to be sensitive in whatever we say and do, and do the things we should do to provide care and encouragement.
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This is a great devotion. By mature, I'm a fixer I can feel your pain, even still and I want to wrap my arms around you and comfort you. But you showed me that might hurt you even more, even though my intentions are just. I pray God will wrap His arms around you and comfort you and show you what you need. Thanks for sharing.
The silent presence and hug of one who cares are always welcomed. It is words spoken without thought or care that upsets me. Praying that as believers in the Lord, all of us would be sensitive to assess each situation before speaking.