Worshiping with Those Who Hurt You

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Standing beside my husband in church, I thought of the past week and the ways we had sinned against each other. We had wounded each other through actions and words. We had shed many tears. We had every reason to be divided against each other. Yet our voices were united, with hundreds of others, singing the words,

Jesus paid it all;
All to him I owe.
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed it white as snow.

It can be difficult to gather for worship because we gather with sinful people. Whether from a spouse or family member sitting in the same row, or from someone across the room, pain and hurt unfortunately often come from within the church. Their presence in the room can be distracting, shifting our thoughts from the reason we gather, or preventing us from gathering at all. How are we supposed to meet regularly (Hebrews 10:24–25) with people who sometimes sin against us and hurt us?

What God Has Done

Christians gather to remember and respond to God and what he has done. God’s people are called to remember God’s works together (Psalm 145:4–7). After the earthly life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we gather together to remember and respond to the redemption story that shockingly and powerfully unfolded when God became flesh to take on the sin of the world (John 1:14, 29).

D.A. Carson says, “This side of the fall, human worship of God properly responds to the redemptive provisions that God has graciously made.” We gather to respond to God’s redemptive grace. On our own, we often forget not only the grace God has given, but also the proper response to that grace. We need to gather to remind each other and ourselves of the gospel, to see God’s glory together, and to respond in gratitude and faith.

In the aftermath of hurt and pain, I desperately need to remember the gospel. I need to remember my sin and the sufficiency of my Savior. I need to remember the sinfulness of those around me and the sufficiency of Christ as their Savior, too. Corporate worship is the place for us to do this. As we remember the same gospel, embrace the same gift of grace, and respond to the same God in gratitude, we are united as one body, even with those who have hurt us.

Changed by His Spirit

Gathering to worship by faith changes us. While we may not feel different at the end of each gathering, beholding God’s glory in corporate worship shapes and transforms us over time (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ-centered worship forms us into Christ-centered people. Meditating on the undeserved gift of grace forms us to be grateful and to extend grace, like Christ, to all, even those we consider undeserving.

On that Sunday, singing of my need for forgiveness, and the assurance I have in Christ, reminded me of all the past worship services, and other circumstances, where I had proclaimed the gospel and God’s grace. My sinfulness and selfishness would lead me to do otherwise, but repeated rehearsal of the gospel message in worship had formed me through the power of the Holy Spirit, so that I was joyfully willing to extend forgiveness to my husband.

Rejoice in Hope

By participating by faith in corporate worship, we are renewed in hope. When we remember the gospel story, our situation is put into proper perspective, and we know one day Christ will fully redeem and restore all things. Our eyes are lifted from our temporary circumstance to the hope of the everlasting kingdom (Revelation 21:4). Graciously and justly, Christ will fully rule over all.

In the meantime, we worship in the midst of sin, suffering, loss, and betrayal. But we are not without hope, because we have a present Savior who understands our pain. The psalmist says, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8).

Our Savior also experienced pain. Christ also was abandoned, betrayed, publicly mocked — “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Despite the excruciating hurt, Christ willingly gave himself up in response to his Father (Luke 23:46).

Regardless of whether we find complete reconciliation with those who hurt us before we get to heaven, we can be hopeful that God will bring peace in his people to completion (Philippians 1:6). As we remember the gospel, we become people who find our hope in the gospel. Even in the midst of the hurt, we are able to join with the psalmist in joyfully saying, “I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you. For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” (Psalm 56:12–13).

(@SusanJBurner) serves as the Associate Chaplain at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she lives with her husband and attends seminary.