February 22, 2011

Sweet Revenge

The Worldview

Around 120 A.D., a Roman satirist named Juvenal wrote these words:

Indeed, it's always a paltry, feeble, tiny mind that takes pleasure in revenge. You can deduce it without further evidence than this, that no one delights more in vengeance than a woman.


 

John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost:

Revenge, at first though sweet,
Bitter ere long back on itself recoils.


 

Written by William Congreve in The Mourning Bride of 1697

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned

Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."


 

Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet statesman, wrote in 1971

"We had no use for the policy of the Gospels: if someone slaps you, just turn the other cheek. We had shown that anyone who slapped us on our cheek would get his head kicked off."

God's command

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.'[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[a] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

   "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; 
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. 
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."[b]

 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21

Why? Why God? Why can we not take revenge on those who are so incredibly evil and maliciously hurt us? WHY??????

I have asked this question repeatedly over the past year and God always shows me the answer. Jesus talked many times about the character of those who follow Him. He says that our righteousness has to be genuine-not just in our actions but our attitudes as well.

When someone has hurt me, my natural reaction is to payback. I want to hurt them and make them hurt the same way that they have hurt me. I want to get even and "settle the score". "Settling the score" and "getting even" are never enough, and instead leave me wanting to add a little bit more to their pain. Even if I were to stay within the bounds of the "punishment" that the "criminal" who has hurt me deserves, I am in sin.

Typically, our justification for justice is a product of a serious condition, a problem called revenge and it is a heart issue not to mention a sin.

Jesus says in such a simple way that the point cannot be missed,

[5:38] "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' [39] But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person.

In other words He is telling us, "DO NOT fight back."

The word "resist" in that verse means, "to oppose, set one's self against". The idea is not about non-resistance but more about not facing off. It speaks against us taking personal retribution against those that hurt us. It encourages us diffuse instead of "getting even". "Getting even" only intensifies the situation. We are to endure and forgive but for us, this does not come as a natural response.

Romans 12:17-21 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

When everything inside of me SCREAMS to "get even", my heart is pulled in the direction of do not do evil just because someone has done evil to you. I feel the tug at my heart and the voice of the Holy Spirit saying "YOU do the right thing." AGGHHH!! It is horrible! I don't want to do the right thing. I want to defend myself! I want the world to know what he has done. It is a horrible feeling to have someone you thought loved you, belittle you and lie about you. To completely betray you in every way possible and to to not fight back. To stay quiet when the world would say fight. Not fighting back is one the hardest things I have ever had to do and truth be told, deep down, I HATE IT! I want to curse him (the one who has hurt me so deeply) and shout to the world all the evil and ugly things he has done to me but I know it will not solve anything. It might make me feel better for a day or two but then I would be back to scheming new ways to bring him down as he is doing to me. So the choice must be made. When he chooses to do the wrong thing, I have to choose to do the right thing.

It ends up sounding a lot like something I have said repeatedly to my kids. It is sad that I am having to live this out in my adult life with another adult.

The younger one hits the older one. So the older one hits them back.

Then the younger one complains to mom and dad.

"Mom, Charlie hit me."

Mom says, "Charlie, did you hit your little sister?"

"Yeah."

"Why would you do such a thing?"

"Because she hit me first."

So typically, my response is "You take care of you and I'll take care of your little sister. You just need to make sure that you
are doing the right thing and do not worry about what your sister is doing. I'll take care of her."

That is the key to the entire thing. I have to make the choice to stop focusing on his bad choices and trust that God will take care of him in His own time. Instead, I must focus my attention on doing my best to live in obedience according to what God has for me. I cannot get involved in trying to get even because that is God's job and I am learning that He is SO much better at it than I am.

"[18] If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

Sometimes I think to myself, "if I don't put a stop to this now, he will continue to do the things he is doing and will continue to hurt not only but many others as well". This may be true but again, God has an answer to my valid concern.

[19] Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.

God will take care of justice. It may not be when I want to see it happen or even how I want it to happen but He promises me that the evil done will be repaid. I just have to leave justice and revenge in the hands of God. My response to evil should always be good. I have to be careful not to set a trap for myself by becoming so wounded and hurt by the evil that I end up choosing an evil path as well. I have to say honestly that I have witnessed at times, that when I have chosen good rather than evil, the results to the person who hurt me were quite devastating. I do believe God's word. I do believe His justice and revenge are much more severe than mine are but it is still so hard.

However, learning to rethink my approach I am able to overcome evil. I overcome the evil- Not by fighting it. Not by punishing it. Not by stamping it out. Instead, by smothering it with kindness and generosity until it can no longer breathe.

Some examples of answering evil with kindness and generosity are found in Matthew 5.

[5:39] If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

In Jesus' day, being struck on the right cheek meant a slap across the face with the back of the hand and it was a terrible insult. This verse does not mean I do not defend myself or that I ask to be hit again but instead I do not retaliate. I choose not to strike back. I choose not to fight back. I choose not to insult. I choose to let it go and forgive. It means that it would be much better for me to take another slap to the face than to stoop to the same level as the person who struck me. In other words, be kind and generous even to those who verbally or physically assault me.

Another example is in verse 40:

[5:40] And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

The tunic was a shirt, the garment worn closest to the body. On top of that, you wore a cloak, which was almost like a blanket. Jewish law permitted a person to sue someone for their shirt because the cloak was protected by law and could not be taken away.

The lawsuit talked about in this verse might be a legitimate case, but I think there is also an overtone in this passage that suggests that it might even be an unfair settlement. Once again, the idea is not that because I am a Christian I am some wimp. It does not mean that if I am unjustly sued that I cannot put on a defense or automatically give the plaintiff all he is asking for and more. Instead, the idea is that I choose not to get even. It is choosing not to stoop to the same level as the one who is cheating you.

Jesus knows that justice is important to us all and He knows that it hurts when we have been wronged but this is where we must be careful. We must never allow our thirst for justice to turn into a quest for revenge. For the moment, we may find the revenge sweet but in the end, no good is accomplished. Leave everything to God and allow Him to repay the evil.


 

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