Yesterday” is one of the most haunting songs in the Beatles’ 213-song repertoire. Now, nearly sixty years later, Paul McCartney has explained its emotional bridge:

Why she had to go?
I don’t know, she wouldn’t say.
I said something wrong.
Now I long for yesterday.

It turns out, McCartney had a conversation in which he embarrassed his mother. Then she died at the age of forty-seven when the singer was just fourteen years old. Now he wishes he had an eraser he could use to rub that “yesterday” moment away.

We don’t have to live very long before we experience such pain ourselves from things we said and did to others and things they said and did to us.

Imagine a world where Jesus’ simple precept was a reality: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12).

Now imagine the difference if that world was your life.

A “categorical imperative” for life

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was one of the most influential thinkers in Western history. His “categorical imperative” is a powerful and persuasive statement of human morality. As expressed in Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, it states: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

In other words, stated positively, we should only do what we would want everyone else to do. Stated negatively, we should avoid actions that would be damaging if everyone else did them.

Wouldn’t such a world would be an immense improvement on this one?

  • We want others to accept us unconditionally, so we accept them unconditionally.
  • We do not want others to attack us, so we refrain from attacking them.
  • We do not want others to lie to us, steal from us, or cheat on us, so we refrain from lying, stealing, and cheating.
  • We do not want others to discriminate against us on the basis of our gender, race, or religion, so we refrain from discrimination.

But what do we do when it’s too late, when we’re already the victim of sins we didn’t commit? In our weeklong series on optimism in pessimistic times, how do we find hope in such pain?

One: See trials as an opportunity to develop character.

St. Augustine noted:

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations.

The great theologian was paraphrasing the command of Scripture:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2–4).

Two: Seek the help of God.

Aristotle claimed, “Whatever lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.” The apostle Paul said the opposite: “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18–19).

Paul’s confession shows that you and I need the power of God’s Spirit to be godly people. If we bring our hurts immediately to our Father, he will give us the strength to respond in grace rather than reacting in pain. But only then.

Three: Ask God if we have sin to confess.

Before we respond to those who sin against us, we should first ask the Lord if we have sinned against them. Jesus cautioned, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

Ask the Spirit to bring to your mind anything in this relationship that is displeasing to God, then confess whatever comes to your thoughts. Claim your Father’s forgiving grace (1 John 1:9), then make things right with those you have wronged as the Lord leads (Matthew 5:24).

Four: Ask God for the power to love as you are loved.

Now we are ready to respond to sin with grace. Biblical forgiveness does not pretend that the sin did not occur or excuse the behavior. Rather, it pardons, choosing not to punish.

I’m not referring to legal criminality or to abuse and danger but to interpersonal, relational sins. When we face such pain, we can ask God to help us choose not to punish. We can then break the cycle of retribution by loving as we are loved. However the other person responds, we will know that we have done what God would have us do. At the very least, since “hurting people hurt people,” we can refuse to let their pain become ours.

How to transform “an enemy into a friend”

Loving as we are loved is the path to hope that can transform our broken world. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right:

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Who in your life needs such transformation today?

Image credit: ©Getty Images / Emma McIntyreStaff

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes,,, and Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit

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