Are we getting even or getting in the way? Revenge and God’s justice

angry handsDo you want to get “even”?

I think it’s a natural feeling that we experience every time we are hurt.  Let’s face it, we can be hurt in so many different ways.  Our hurts can be physical, emotional or spiritual.  And when we are hurt, it’s easy to think, “I’m going to make you pay. I’m going to get you back.  I’m going to even the score.”

Do you want to get even?

I’m not talking simply about getting justice.  In your pain and your hurt, do you want to make the other person, the other party, that group of people who hurt you feel the pain that you are feeling?

That’s what came to my mind when I ran across something that I had posted years ago.  It was about this time of year, during the season of Lent, and I was trying to journal some thoughts from scripture.

Then, I came across my own words on this passage from Romans 12:

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 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. (vs. 17-19)

So much for not getting mad and getting even!  It’s like the writer , Paul, isn’t content to let me or you sit around in our own pity parties and our feelings.  Paul knows that when we are in that place we can appoint ourselves as judge, prosecutor and jury.

I’m certain that Paul is someone who could’ve felt a lot of that need to get even.  Every where that he went in the ancient world to start a church, he would encounter people who were saying he had no right to speak on God’s behalf.  He was beaten, arrested and imprisoned and, sometimes, others were absolutely telling lies about him.  Paul had plenty of reasons to want to get “even.”

And even with all of that, Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  If we could leave out that part between the commas — as far as it depends on you — we might be able to find some wiggle room.  Well, Paul did say IF it is possible.

Then, he has to go and make it personal by adding “as far as it depends on you.”  In other words, Paul is saying that it’s not always going to be possible for you to walk away from conflict but you need to concentrate on the part you can control — you.  Don’t be the one who stirs up the hornet’s nest.  Paul is saying to seek peace first,  no matter the circumstances.

The reason for this comes in the next verse.  As much as we would like for it to be, revenge is not our job.  It’s like Paul is saying, you did your best, you tried to live at peace, and you will still hurt.  The conflict is still there and you have every reason to get even with the person who hurt you but don’t go there..

Paul’s reason for saying this is stated this way, ” leave room for God’s wrath.”  What I hear is Paul saying don’t let your hurt feelings or the situation lead you to putting yourself in the way of God avenging the situation in his wrath.  Words matter and Paul is reminding us that avenging the issue, or getting justice for the situation, ultimately belongs to God and not to me or you.

When we let our need for revenge take over, when we seek to make it even or get ahead, when we want to pay that other person back, we are actually putting our own needs and feelings above God’s wrath and God’s ability to apply it in the situation.  That’s a scary thought.  Have I let my own feelings get in the way of God handling the situation?

So then, what is the response of believer to being hurt by others, to experiencing evil at the hands of others, or to our feelings that we must have revenge?

We have to be willing to step back and let God work because the bigger issue is that we don’t want to let the evil we’ve experienced turn us to evil.  We surrender our wills, our desire to get even, to avenge attacks, to wage war, and we lay it all at the feet of God.

That’s not always the easiest thing to hear.

It reminds me of something I read in NT Wright’s book, Evil and the Justice of God.  He says that when something evil happens to us or to the group we belong to, we, generally, have a reaction something along these lines:

  • We seem to be shocked to realize that evil exists (despite all of the evidence to the contrary around us).
  • We have a feeling that we have to get even, that we have to settle the score, that we, sometimes, have to get ahead in the situation.
  • And, most often, according to Wright, we react in an immature, even stupid, way in our response to what we’ve experienced.  (I won’t ask for a show of hands, but anyone ever been there before?).

The ultimate message in Romans 12 is that relationships matter.  When our need to get even, to get ahead or to seek revenge overwhelm us and drive us, we are sacrificing the ability to improve our relationships with others.

Ultimately, words matter.

And this message about God, through Paul, might be one of the toughest words we encounter when we are hurting and angry.

Maybe, our prayer in this should be that we don’t let our pain and anger get in the way of God ultimately bringing justice to the situation.

Don’t get even.  Instead, leave room for God to handle it.

 

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