You may remember from the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Eustace mocks the Pevensies for their belief in Narnia, boasts of his many great achievements, and is truly insufferable. It is with great dread that Lucy and Edmond come to spend a summer with him, and he does not disappoint their low expectations. Even in the wonderful kingdom of Narnia, Eustace spends most of his time complaining about and denigrating his magical surroundings.
Many of us have a Eustace in our lives (or more than one), which is part of what makes Lewis’s depiction so realistic. Just the other day I sat down with the difficult person in my life. In a moment of gentle honesty, I told them that their actions towards me were no only displeasing to the Lord, but were, frankly, making my life miserable. Based on our history I expecting resistance, or denial. I would have never guessed that he would respond by…smiling. I looked into his eyes and saw that he was truly enjoying my vexation.
I should not really have been surprised. The Bible has a clear category for people like this. Proverbs 4:16 says that some people “cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble.” And it is actually one of God’s kindnesses to prepare us for such relationships. I have found many places in God’s Word which not only warn me of difficult people, but prepare be to face such challenges.
For those who are experiencing the same kind of suffering under a verbally abusive spouse, or persecution for the sake of the Gospel, or a child who does the opposite of what you want just to spite you, take heart that…
1. Sometimes we are hated without cause
The natural tendency when we are hated is to ask what we have done wrong. This is not a bad question, and certainly we ought to make sure that we do not have a log in our own eye (Matthew 7:3-5). King David, however, reveals that the fault is not always in us, when he cries,
“See how they lie in wait for me! Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin of mine, O LORD. I have done no wrong, yet they are ready to attack me.” (Psalm 59:3-4)
Sometimes people hate simply because they love hating. David says again in Psalm 69:3-4, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. What I did not steal must I now restore?” David here is declaring his innocence. He was a man who was hated by many who had no reason to hate him.
2. God is the one who walls-in without giving an escape
We can also be reassured that it is ultimately God who calls the shots regarding the intensity and duration of our suffering with difficult people. Jeremiah claims in the face of his pain that God “has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy…he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones” (Lamentations 3:7-9).
Since God’s intentions are good, even though the difficult person’s are not, you can bear up under the ball and chain of the suffering knowing that our Heavenly Father will remove it when its good purpose for us has been fulfilled. Missionary linguist, Ken Pike, said:
“It is not our privilege to be so disturbed by another person’s failure that we look on that failure rather than on the sovereignty of God.”
God sovereignly places difficult people in our lives to grow our character. We can’t necessarily trust them, but we can entrust ourselves to God.
3. There is no place for shame for sins we do not commit
Especially when difficult people are members of our own family, there is a huge temptation to feel ashamed of their sins. Some might be tempted to think: Why is it that you’re the one swearing at the waitress and I’m the one who is embarrassed? Others might make excuses for their spouses who skipped church once again or for their children who made yet another child bleed. We need to be careful not to bear the sins of our loved ones that we ourselves have not committed. David says,
“No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse” (Psalm 25:3).
When we are hoping in God, then we do not need to feel ashamed for the sin of our difficult people. The shame belongs to them.
4. Their destruction is not asleep
Proverbs 17:5 says, “He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.” This proverb reassures us that the one who loves the suffering of others will indeed be punished. The Hamans who delight in the destruction of God’s people will hang on their own gallows. Peter says, “Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2 Peter 2:3). Right now it does not seem fair that some struggle every day to love a difficult person and then watch them live without thought of their offenses. We can take heart knowing that God is not sleeping. David says, “God will let me look in triumph on my enemies” (Psalm 59:10).
Today in church, the pastor spoke of 1 Samuel 25. In this story a foolish and wicked man named Nabal who refused to give David and his mighty men provisions. The passage tells us up front that Nabal’s wife, Abigail, “was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved” (v 3). Nabal’s response stirs up David’s wrath and he vows to kill Nabal and all the males of his household. When Abigail finds out what Nabal had done, she rushes out with gifts and begs for David’s mercy. Not only does she receive this mercy, but is commended for her courage and the fact that she spared David from sinning.
The passage is striking on a number of levels. You have the striking foolishness of Nabal, who is willing to offend a band of heavily armed warriors. You have the striking pettiness of David, who is about to commit murder because of his offended pride. And then you have the striking grace of Abigail. The Bible is clear: this is not just a one time event. Nabal was “harsh and badly behaved.” And yet, when Abigail rushes out to cover his offense, she says, “On me alone, my lord, be the guilt” (v 24). Abigail had not let her husband’s folly and harshness harden her own heart. Even though he did not deserve it (and she says so!), she put her own life at risk to spare Nabal’s.
Nabal reaped what he sowed. God struck him dead ten days later. As for Abigail, she became the wife of the king. Eustace became a dragon, learned to love, and was changed from the inside out. Sometimes, with those people most difficult for us, God will finally bring them to repentance. Sometimes, he will pour out on them the fullness of his wrath. But here is the hope:
If God has successfully been able to parse out the Abigails from the Nabals throughout history, then he is able to do the same in our lives. One day, there will be no more parents blamed for the sins of their children or righteous wives assumed to be like their foolish husbands. God knows every situation perfectly and he will, in his time, bring everything to light. He sees every knee bowed in prayer for difficult people. He knows that even though you lost your cool that one time, you resisted the temptation to do so 200 times before that. And in the end, their smiles will be gone and the righteous will be free.