The reason I am angry is my family has just fallen victim to an internet scam. We currently are in need of a car but do not have a whole lot of money to spend. A lister on craigslist set up a scam for a decent commuter car at a slightly more than reasonable price. To make a long story short my parents are out $2,500 and still no car. Times are tough enough without being duped into handing out money we can't afford to give away. After, I realized the ruse, the veil that's been pulled over our eyes, I couldn't help but think about the person or people at the other end who are now enjoying roughly a hundred hours of work that my mother had earned caring for the health of elderly and infirmed. What I mainly thought about was what kind of mindset does it take for people to concoct such an elaborate ploy involving multiple email addresses, fax numbers, graphically sophisticated invoice fabrications and a sob story? Even more disturbing a question: Is there any guilt or desire in such people?
It was this last question that piqued my anger as my suspicion answered, "No." The idea that there were people who sat around devoting their time, skill, knowledge and energy to making life just that much more difficult for others simply angers me. I stewed in this anger. I researched if there were any ways we could get the money back (there isn't) or if my local police department had an online investigation resource (it seems they don't). Feeling helpless and angry, I simply filed a police report and stewed some more while as I researched further how little hope there was at ever seeing that money come back.
My father is a passionate man who, unlike me, wears his emotions for any and all to see. He gets angry and often has to release his energy physically. He's never hit anyone, but he has put holes in walls, slammed doors and stormed out on a brisk walk. But, like me, his anger is shallow. He may get extremely mad but he doesn't hold grudges and believes strongly that justice will be served without his having to do anything. As quick as my father angers, it dissipates just as quickly.
This time he took the walking option. He walked as I sat there stewing. After he calmed down a bit and upon his return, my father came to me and told me the source of his self-assurance. He told me that we should let our offender(s) know that they are bringing a curse down upon themselves--that there is a family curse that brings retribution to those who offend the family. I had forgotten about this as he told me once years ago, but explained to me again the curse that seemingly defends the family name.
"Once a man deeply offended and took advantage of your grandpa. Your grandpa said to the man, 'I hope you drop dead!' And later that day that is exactly what happened." Then my father went on to explain his own experience. "The guys who really offended me, some of them ended up crippled the rest had misfortune hit them real hard." Lastly, he explained, "I am not sure if this comes from God or demons but either way it is justice. I don't know but it may be passed on to you." My father spoke of this as something that gives him a sense of justice, a way to rationalize it and give him peace of mind. I couldn't share in this idea of peace.
Curses are real as blessings are real. And it is true, according to every Church document and teaching on the occult and evil spirits that curses, hexes and the like can be passed on through the bloodline. I won't delve anymore on the subject here but it suffices to say a curse may very well be the case but I take no delight in thinking that there is a force that will bring destruction and misfortune on those that offend me. The spirit of vengeance is not from God as tempting as it might be to align myself with it.
It is tempting to desire bad things to happen to the people who do bad things to us. The bad things that others commit--the sins or trespasses of other--makes us feel terrible. Whether it is sorrow, anger, despair, vengeful, anxious, fearful, distrusting etc., they are passions, though familiar, were never meant to be part of the human experience. They are, in a sense, contrary to our nature in that the capacity to feel is directed toward experiences of joy, gratitude, contentment, awe at God's glory and other good emotions to have. This is the perversion of sin in the human heart.
Humanity was originally given a heart that beat solely for God's delight. In its breaking at the fall, it strives to do for that which it was made--to feel joy and share it. However, the complexities of sin make the heart perform what it was designed for in perversity. The heart, in response to things that it was never meant to experience, feels passions it was not supposed to feel. Betrayal, deception, pride--sin is something that the heart was not built to handle. Thus, the heart will do the only two things it knows how. Feel what it feels and stir the desire to share what it feels.
There is truth in the saying, "misery loves company." It is part of the tendency to sin in humanity that seeks to make others feel as we feel when we get hurt. That is precisely the flashes of passions I experienced. I wanted to hurt those who hurt my family, who hurt me by deceiving me. When my father told me about the curse there was a part of me that did want those scammers to be accursed. But there was another voice in my conscience whom I've learned to listen to more trustingly. The sense I had in the midst of it all was that I needed to make a choice: to bless or curse.
The temptation was, of course, to give in to my heart's desire and curse those who have just offended me. That, however, is not Christ's way. He tells us, "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). I am staunchly convinced that grace came to me at the moment of the question: Bless or curse? I wanted no part of anything that was not from God. So, I decided to get down on my knees and pray for those scammers. I prayed simply, telling God, "I am saddened by what has happened. Even so, bless them and bring them to conversion and repentance that they may realize the injury they cause us and others and seek your forgiveness." The deeper prayer I believe that God heard was my concern for the state of their soul. Someone who has spent so many resources on a ploy of deception indicates that they have given their heart, mind and will to the devices of evil. They have intentionally contributed to further injury in the world. And that is definitely something to be saddened by.
Paul tells us, "Love rejoices with the truth" (I Cor 13). Rejoicing is the appropriate response of the heart when it encounters the truth. Likewise, sin should sadden us because, again, it was not supposed to be there. But what shall we do with this sadness? What is the life-giving course of action for us to take as Christians in the contemporary world?
Christ timelessly speaks to us the beatitudes. In particular to this case, Christ says, "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). The beatitudes have always held a place of awe and intellectual tension as another way of translating blessed is "happy." Happy are those who mourn. The more I dwell on it the more apparent its truth is. Mourning is the response of the blessed in response to the evils of this world. Like I mentioned earlier. The heart is only capable of two things passion and stirring desire. In original justice, the heart was made simply to delight in God and his goodness revealed in creation. By sin the heart was perverted to experience things that break it and share its brokenness. In Christ, there is mending of the human heart through the beatitudes. Mourning and sadness are indeed what we are to feel in response to injustice. Just to realize that is cause for joy because the blessed can say they can recognize sin, recognize the sadness they feel and, most importantly, recognize the temptation of the heart to share it but, by grace of the free will, we can decide not to. Instead, by returning blessings for curses, love for hatred, we are doing real battle against the forces of evil.
What the scammers did was wrong, hurtful and is contrary to human society. More importantly it was contrary to Jesus' own prayer to the Father, "...Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." It is a reminder to me that I personally, but all of the Church also, have a responsibility to do battle with the forces of evil and further the kingdom of God. It is the battle we all must fight where the enemy line is drawn right down the middle of our hearts. I will not allow this evil to win by dragging me into its ranks. I will follow the commands of the Lord to do good in return to those who do me evil. This battle, I can safely say, belongs to God and I get to enjoy the spoils as well. Though the war is far from over this little victory is one among many more to come as God conquers the evils of my heart.
"Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for youAs yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bendYour force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.I, like an usurp'd town to another due,Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,But am betroth'd unto your enemy;Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,Take me to you, imprison me, for I,Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."
--John Donne, Sonnet 14