It Was An Accident
by Leslie Vernick
I witnessed an awful accident yesterday. An elderly man driving a golf cart was pulling into a parking lot. The driver behind him rear-ended his cart as he was making the turn. The old man flew out of his golf cart, landing face down on the road.
Ambulances and police were called and the driver behind him got out of her car shaken. She said, “It was an accident. I didn’t see him”.
I’m sure she was telling the truth. Accidents happen. Sometimes we do things, not intending to cause harm. We may say or do something careless or without thinking of the consequences towards others. But when that happens our response is critical.
Just because she didn’t intend to cause harm doesn’t mean she didn’t cause harm. Intent does not negate the impact.
Sometimes I see this same line used with personal relationships. For example, “I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings, you’re just too sensitive.” Or “I didn’t intend to be disrespectful or dismissive of your point of view. I just think I know more about this subject than you do. It’s your problem if you get offended.”
Really? Because you did not intend to cause harm, if I was harmed, it’s not your fault or your problem? You shouldn’t have to make amends or repairs or deal with consequences because you didn’t intend for harm to happen?
Let’s reverse this logic. If I accidentally back my car into your car in the parking lot at church because I was texting my kids, you’d be fine with me saying, “Oh brother (or sister in Christ). I’m so glad it’s you. It was not my intent to harm you or your car. And remember, the Bible says, love keeps no record of wrongs. Thanks for your understanding. Be well and I’ll see you next week.” Meanwhile, your head is bleeding, your headlight is smashed, and I have shown no concern or taken any responsibility for the harm my actions caused you.
No one, Christian or secular would think this response is appropriate. Sadly, all too often this is exactly what a person faces when dealing with interpersonal harm. You’re not allowed to express your pain or talk about the damage that was caused because that “hurts their feelings because they didn’t mean it.” You’re not allowed to require restitution for damages or amends to be made because then “you have no mercy and hold a grudge.” You’re not allowed to set boundaries on future contact because “you are labeled unforgiving, hard-hearted, and holding a record of wrongs.”
If you are a counselor, pastor, or well-meaning people helper, please do not enable this insanity by assuming intent negates impact. That is not true. And if you’ve been harmed by someone, even if there was no conscious intent to do you harm, don’t allow yourself to get guilted, shamed or bullied when you ask for amends, reparation and repentance from the person who caused you harm. There is nothing unbiblical about those expectations. Mercy does not negate the reality of the damage done. (Read Leviticus 4,5,6 for example, to learn God’s heart for maintaining safety in the community when you harm someone unintentionally or intentionally).
Lastly, if you are reading this and have hurt or harmed someone, intentionally or unintentionally, take responsibility. Show care for the pain you’ve caused by listening to the other’s pain and making amends and restitution for that pain so that hopefully, the relationship can be restored.