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Feel Cheated?

3 steps to moving past the hurt

By David B.Crabtree

The classroom seemed unusually warm for October. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, stole a glance at the teacher, and checked the position of my cheat sheet.

From former testing encounters it was clear that science was not for me. I was not at all enamored with chlorophyll, photosynthesis or osmosis. I did, however, recognize that failing a class would generate unwanted heat at home, so I made my first and last foray into the shady business of academic cheating.

My careful preparation was paying off as I flew through the first page of multiple-choice questions. But cheating takes a lot of concentration, and I lost track of the teacher … up until the moment he snatched the test from my desk. He marched to the front of the class, seized his red pen and fashioned a rather poorly formed “F” before dropping the worthless paper back on my desk.

A girl named Sandra sat to my left. She knew my sister. She rolled her eyes. She would talk. I was toast.

I don’t remember much about the seventh grade, but I’ll never forget the last 20 minutes in that testing room. I felt like I might be coming down with a fever. Getting caught is unforgettable. But I’m grateful I was caught. Continuing down that path would have had unthinkable consequences.

Truth is the first casualty of the con artist. Those who don’t get caught forget how to tell the truth. And that moral handicap soon threatens friendships, careers and marriages.

Cheating puts nations on the brink of war, institutions in insolvency, families in free-fall, and innocents in anguish. It swells prison populations, shrinks profit margins, and stifles growth. We all bear the costs when losses from corporate and government cheating are recovered through the taxpayer/consumer.

Cheating is pervasive in today’s culture. With the rise of relativism, we shouldn’t be surprised by the attitude that says, “It’s only cheating if you get caught.” One might as well say, “It’s only murder if you get caught.” Truth is not determined by consequences, but by fact. But in our culture, facts are too often distorted in a black box called interpretation.

The Bible does not hide its cheats or those cheated. Ironically, the man who would give his name to God’s chosen Israelites has the most detailed biblical rap sheet of them all.

Israel, first known as Jacob, cheated his dullard brother, Esau, out of the family birthright. Not content with that triumph of subterfuge, Jacob set his sights on Isaac’s patriarchal blessing. He calmly deceived his nearly blind father, then skipped town to escape his brother’s rage.

But Jacob met his match in an uncle named Laban. The swindler got swindled. Laban promised Jacob the lovely Rachel in return for just seven years of labor. The morning after the marriage, Jacob woke up to the surprise of his life — Leah, Rachel’s sister, had been behind all those veils. His uncle/father-in-law was only too happy to offer Rachel as a second wife, but it would cost the cornered Jacob seven more years of work.

At this point we’re tempted to cheer because Jacob got what was coming to him. If we do, we miss the point of the biblical narrative. God wants us to see our own tendencies reflected in Jacob. He wants us to mend our inner disconnect with honesty in a relationship with the One called Truth. And when we meet a Jacob and find ourselves cheated and taken for granted, He is also the One who can bring healing.

1. Give it up.

Life is filled with offense and wounding. You can waste all your strength and time seeking restitution. But when you experience God’s grace toward your sins, you realize that a whisper of that same grace, when shared, can restore your soul.

Some stuff just needs to be written off. No apology will be offered. No refunds will be made. If you labor under the assumption that life is fair, life will be inexorably hard. Life is unfair, but God is good and just and longsuffering and faithful. Sweating the small stuff in life, we miss great opportunities for joy and progress.

If you’re going to enjoy camping, you’re going to have to put up with bugs. If you’re going to enjoy the great outdoors, you’re going to have to put up with a little rain. If you’re going to live with any sense of freedom, you’re going to need to learn to write off uncollectable debts and move on. It’s called forgiveness, and it liberates the captor as surely as it frees the captive.

2. Give it time.

When Jacob, the swindler, had worn out his welcome with Laban, he returned to the land of his fathers with his wives and children. He was older and wiser and learning to live faithfully for the God of his fathers. But as he approached his homeland, Jacob faced an ominous threat. Esau, the brother he cheated, was still in the neighborhood and had grown quite powerful. Jacob learned that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Fear gripped his heart.

But Esau met Jacob in the spirit of peace and reconciliation (Genesis 33:4). Time had healed the hurts that had once filled his heart with murder. Some loose ends are tied off by the hands of time. Our rush to exact justice will often frustrate God’s grace that flows freely through a change in perspective. God works through time. You may find wisdom in waiting.

3. Give it over to God.

In the Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs us to bless those who curse us (5:44), to forgive those who sin against us (6:14), and to give our cloak to the one who has taken our tunic (5:40). In the natural, we might conclude that the Christian life is a study in victimization. But reading the full text of the ultimate sermon, we find a God who holds himself accountable for our complete provision in life — even if we have been sorely cheated by men (6:25-34).

We are warned against taking vengeance (Romans 12:19-21). Within the body of Christ, the apostle Paul argues that it would be better for us to accept the wrongs done to us and let ourselves be cheated rather than take a fellow believer to court (1 Corinthians 6:1-7). At issue is our perceived source of provision and justice. Do we truly trust God to deal with His people and heal broken relationships, or must we seek our own way and find our own justice?

When dealing with a cheater we are testing the reach of grace, but God’s grace never fails the test. Grace can triumph when it seems that all is lost. But grace is a choice we make, and often against the pain-filled wounded cry for vengeance and justice. Choosing grace isn’t always easy, but choosing anything less will leave the soul wanting. We need to turn the tables in a victim culture dominated by feelings and be a people who respond to our hurts with grace, love and faith.

DAVID B. CRABTREE is the lead pastor of Calvary Church, an Assemblies of God congregation, in Greensboro, N.C.

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