There’s an old saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” You can’t make something right by committing another wrong. And sometimes making something right is hard. It may mean taking on a responsibility you didn’t want to bear. It may mean swallowing your pride and accepting a slight. It may mean forgiving an old debt, even a large one. The key here is to focus on what is right and doing it because it’s the right thing to do. When we don’t do that, typically we just add to the chain of bad things, like Abram did:
And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her. - Genesis 16:5-6
Sarai didn’t like how she has been treated. She didn’t want to admit that the situation was partially her fault. As a result, she blamed it all on Abram. If you follow the Biblical philosophy that there is a hierarchy to the household and that the husband should lead humbly, loving his wife as Christ loves the Church, and training up his kids in the way they should go, then she had some validity to her blame. The decision on what to do ultimately rested with Abram. There are no two ways about it. Abram was the one who should have stopped the situation from happening. As a matter of fact, according to what we know from the rest of Scripture, it is Abram whom God would hold accountable for this mess. But Sarai then does nothing to improve the situation. She instead made it worse. One could argue that she’s justified because of how Hagar treated her. But revenge by us is not justified. Treating someone wrongly, no matter how they have treated us, is not justified. It is still wrong.
Abram had a chance to make things right. He had the opportunity to put both of them side-by-side and end the nonsense. He could have said, “Look, we three got ourselves into this situation. We’re a family. We’re not going to fight. We’re not going to mistreat each other. We will do the right thing by each other starting now. We can’t undo the past. But we can do something about how we act in the future.” And then he could have stood his ground. He could have corrected any attempts to tip-toe around his words. Abram could have been strong here. But he wasn’t. Instead, he passed the responsibility back to Sarai. “She’s your servant… treat her any way you want.” He dodged his duty. He shouldn’t have! That’s right, but he did. However, before we’re so quick to condemn Abram, there’s something we must remember: we’ve done the same thing many, many times. We’re just as guilty as he is.
Abram could have broken the chain and starting trying to amend the situation for the better. Would he ever gotten it back to right again? We don’t know and likely not, but he could have made it better. He chose not to and that was wrong. As a result, he compounded one wrong with another wrong. In the years to come the situation would repeat and eventually Hagar and Ishmael would be kicked out. The family would be split. A boy would be separated from his daddy during his teenage years because his daddy effectively choose his baby half-brother over him. Stop and think about that one for a moment. Is there any doubt as to why there is enmity between the descendents of Ishmael and the descendents of Isaac to this day?
Don’t continue the chain. If there is something wrong right now that you have the ability to change, break the chain. Do the right thing. Don’t compound the wrong that has already been done with more wrong. Choosing not to do something when you can make it better is a choice: a choice for wrong. If you’re not sure if there are such things in your life, ask God for discernment. We all have them, and they are all around us. There are damaged relationships with friends and family. There are situations in the lives of folks in our church where we can be an encouragement and a break in the storm that is life. There are a multitude of places where we can do the right thing and stop the cycle of wrong. We just have to see those places and want to shoulder the load. Let us be less like Abram, less like our weaker selves, and more like the Christ who took the weighty burden of sin upon His shoulders and bore them to the Cross for each one of us.