Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The headline said one word, in thick black letters right across the top of the front page: REVENGE. The story was a classic tale of spurned love. A woman’s husband had cheated on her and went off with her best friend. She bided her time, waiting for her opportunity and then killed them both, not instantly but in a way which allowed her to extract maximum satisfaction by giving them maximum terror. It was a nasty, sorry, sordid story. But I think the reason why it made the front page was because deep down a lot of us know someone we would like to ‘get even with’. Even more troubling, at any given moment there is likely someone who would love to take revenge on us. The desire for revenge is like a deep itch somewhere right down inside. The media knows that if we can’t scratch that itch ourselves we like hearing about someone else who could and did.
The Evil Done to Us
Along the journey of life, it is inevitable that we will be misunderstood and possibly mistreated. Sometimes we suffer in silence, but sometimes we decide to become judge, jury and executioner. You may have been wronged by a fellow christian, a family member, or a neighbour in the community. That feeling of hurt goes deep, and it gives birth to a desire for retaliation. You want to get even. If we had the courage, or the stupidity, we would love to see them get what they deserve. You may believe that your resentment is just, and it might be! Your anger at being hurt is a testimony to the sense of fairness that God placed in your conscience. But our feelings tend to go too far. They tend to become a longing to get even as soon as the opportunity presents itself. That’s how deceitful temptation is, it makes evil look like it’s good.
Sometimes, getting even with the person who hurt us involves simply holding it over them. Instead of taking immediate revenge when we have been wronged, we often try to cover up our anger and pretend nothing is wrong. So, instead of outright revenge, we find other ways. We treat those who hurt us with disgust, disdain, or resentment. We want little to nothing to do with them. We refuse to help them or cooperate with them in any way. We feel justified in spreading gossip about them, making sure other people know just how badly they mistreated us. We can secretly rejoice when misfortune befalls them. We can frustrate their goals and plans. We hold on to the anger and we never let it go. It is tempting to try to take on the role of God and seek to punish those who we feel deserve it.
As long as our hearts are full of revenge, we cannot develop into mature Christians. Every unresolved conflict, every grudge we harbour and every resentment we have will wreak havoc on us spiritually and even physically. Every unresolved conflict produces its own wound. Someone has done something to us which we have allowed to fester. Thoughts of revenge can control our minds to where we no longer behave rationally. We find ourselves acting before we think. Revenge can empty our lives of happiness, joy, peace and contentment. In the end, revenge is not “sweet” as the saying goes-it is not even bittersweet, it is self destruction. If you give in to resentment and the desire for revenge, evil will have conquered you.
The Good We Respond With
So, when you are hurt or wronged how are you supposed to respond? We should not take revenge. We should not get even or hold grudges, especially not in the Church! You are supposed to forgive those who have wronged you. But you may say, “You don’t know what they have done to me. I can’t forgive them for what they’ve done.” If that is how you’re thinking, then you should simply admit that don’t want to. You don’t feel like forgiving that person. And you need to recognise that this is the old you talking, that sin-riddled self-centred old Adam who wants everything his way. Forgive them. Or else just stop saying: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Many Christians think that ‘forgiveness’ means pretending that everything is all right, that the other person hasn’t really done anything wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying ‘it didn’t really happen’ or ‘it didn’t really matter’. Evil is real. It hurts, sometimes badly and with lasting effects. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences for those who hurt you either. If you were hurt it does matter. Evil needs to be confronted. But, forgiveness is when it did happen, and it did matter, and you’re going to deal with it by loving and accepting one another again anyway.
Yes, you are also supposed to love those who have hurt you. You are to do good to them and for them. What we ought to do is clear, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” This means we do not seek revenge, but we actually find some way to serve those who wronged us, some way to seek their good and well-being.
We might think taking vengeance will be satisfying, but it simply perpetuates the problem. We don’t have to carry anger and bitterness, resentment and revenge. When we refuse to take revenge, and deliberately rid ourselves even of the desire for it, we are taking responsibility at least for our own mental and emotional health. We are refusing to allow our own future lives to be determined by the evil that someone else has done. It’s bad enough that they’ve done something hurtful; why should they then have the right to keep us in a bitter and twisted state?
What God Did About It
Since we believe in a creator God who made a good and lovely world, we believe that everything which defaces and distorts, damages or spoils part of that creation is not another type of goodness but is actually its opposite, it’s evil. The question is, what is God going to do about it? God is going to see to it that justice is done, so we should lay it down. We are to live at peace with those around us and leave vengeance to the One best suited to deal with it. We should trust God to deal with it in his own time and way. It isn’t our job to speed up the process.
But, there is quite a bit more that God has done to deal with evil. How did God respond to your evil? Did God seek to take revenge? He certainly could have. If anyone would have been more justified to deal out vengeance it would be God himself. But, while we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. At the heart of the Gospel stands this claim, that when human evil reached its height God came and took its full weight upon himself. He took all your hurt and all the evil done to you, and extinguished it by his death. He did not repay the evil of our sin with more evil. He was not overcome with evil, because it is Christ who overcame our evil with His goodness. It is Christ who heaped the fiery coals of forgiveness upon us. It is Christ who did not take vengeance upon us, but instead let vengeance fall upon Him. Jesus did not lash out when false charges were brought up against Him. He did not strike back when He was beaten and mocked. When He was nailed to the cross, His first words were, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). On the Cross He blessed and forgave all men by shedding His precious Blood on our behalf.
Evil is real, and it was defeated by the death of Jesus Christ. If you were hurt it does matter, and it mattered so much that Jesus went all the way to Calvary to deal with it. If you seek justice for what has been done to you, look no further than the Crucified Messiah. On that cross, justice was meted out for all the injustices in the world. It is Christ who was crushed on Calvary, so that you will never be crushed. You can rejoice, because Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). You can be patient in suffering because Christ suffered for you. You can persevere in prayer because Christ lives to make intercession for you. You can bless those who persecute you because Jesus has blessed you. You can repay evil for good because God has repaid your evil with forgiveness, life, and salvation. You can live peacefully with all because the chastisement which brought us peace was upon Him (Isa. 53:5). You can leave room for the wrath of God because Jesus removed it from you. “To be Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (C. S. Lewis).
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.