Revenge is a third grade girl passing a note to her new BFF about her ex-friend. It’s the bullied kid looking up bomb-making recipes. Sometimes it’s even the passed over employee digging up dirt about the company’s new “darling.”
I don’t usually think of vengeance as something associated with us grown-ups living Christianly. Sure we may gripe and complain when life isn’t fair. We may add that wrongdoer to the prayer list, let it simmer and leave it at that. In the back of our minds there are thoughts of revenge not acted on. Out of civility, that’s where it ends.
Many of us are familiar with Romans 2:19 which reads, “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,’ says the Lord.” God will avenge. Does that mean during my ladies prayer group it is good and right to petition God to go forth and do His part against the person who hurt me? I’ve never seen that in practice, but there is Biblical precedent.
Revenge “Hit List”
I can honestly say there are names that come to mind immediately when I think about seeking big time revenge. A can see faces frozen in time… a white-haired man who abused a family member, a sassy brunette who teased me in school, and a rail thin man who deeply frightened me. It has been somewhat cleansing for me to find out that negative things have happened in their lives without my involvement. At the same time I must say I’ve struggled with feelings of guilt. It just feels wrong (mostly!) to be happy “they’re getting theirs!”
In the Psalms we can read how David struggled with the same thing. Psalm 3:7 says, “Arise, LORD! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” Wow, that’s some pretty vivid imagery. At the same time David himself walked away from the sleeping body of King Saul who had actively sought to kill him with armies, and even his own bow and arrow.
With one of the people on my “revenge list” I can see God physically took care of the revenge. In the other two cases I can see my need to actively let go and increase in love. I’ve learned the gal who bullied me in school is in a revolving door of relationships. The man who scared me is now on medication. I have “forgiven” them and yet reminders of how they’ve hurt me take my memory back to unsavory places. I have to tell myself I have chosen to forgive them and leave that bitterness in my past.
For most of us there are those two or three people that we’d consider the “biggies” who’ve hurt us to the core, still in everyday life we have plenty of people we verbally avenge in the heat of the moment: A “frenemy” in the next cubicle, the room supermom that shows you up in front of your kids, even the husband who won’t put his tools away- again. We enjoy having these people around when the relationships are advantageous, but when they aren’t we often seek their harm and not good. Our true character comes out in these everyday situations because often we are unwilling to define our outbursts as hate-filled revenge.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-47
Praying that I can love my enemies and that God will strike my enemy with his perfect revenge… there is such an obvious tension between the two. I must test my own heart and see if hatred leads or if love is the force behind my words to the Heavenly Father.
For more on this subject (and a different point of view) you may enjoy “Bless Them” or “Bring Them Down”? from Messy Theology.