A grizzled old man was eating at a truck stop. Three tough bikers walked in. One pushed his cigarette into the old man’s pie, one spit into the old man’s milk, and one turned over the old man’s plate. Without a word, the old man left. Shortly thereafter one biker said to the waitress, “Not much of a man, was he?” The waitress replied, “Not much of a truck driver either. He just backed over three motorcycles.” (1)
We chuckle, because at some points we have had an inner desire for revenge, to get even. We remind ourselves that Scripture says, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). And it does – but its correct context could be a column for another time. My point now is that revenge never evens the score. Instead, it ties all parties to an escalator of retaliation. If everyone lived by the “eye for an eye” principle, who in the world would have any sight left?
The emotions behind a desire for revenge are malignancies that threaten to destroy us. They hurt us more than those we against whom we hold anger. Desire for revenge cements us to our past so we cannot move forward. Nursing resentment is like eating poison and waiting for the other person to keel over. (2) Rather than inflicting consequences we suffer the consequences. A woman who vows she’ll never forget the injury caused by something her in-laws said will be far more miserable than they are. The husband who secretly prays that his ex will be miserable will end up far more miserable than she is. We cannot stand up under the weight of a grudge.
Yet when we’re hurt or offended we want someone to pay for the injustice. But someone already has paid for injustice. His name is Jesus. Charged with no crime, having lived without sin, He was put to death like a common criminal. “But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.”
Once we grasp what Jesus has done, we can walk a much more beautiful path. “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:17-21) Revenge or honor? Anger or peace? Which path will you walk?
(1) Preaching Now, January 22 , 2008
(2) Anonymous, from Robert Atwell, Soul Unfinished (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press. 2012), 72
This first appeared as a column in the South Haven Tribune, Sept. 6, 2016
You may read more about the cycle of revenge in my book on Joseph.