When someone does us harm, either physical, verbal or emotional, it seems our natural inclination is to seek revenge. We want to get back at them. We want to make them hurt like we hurt. We somehow envision some modicum of satisfaction we’ll receive from just such a scenario.
Can vengeance bring any of us real solace, satisfaction, or a sense of peace?
I was watching some movie recently, unfortunately, I don’t recall the movie or the setting. I think the movie was actually on as background noise while I was engaged in some other endeavor. My ears, however, tuned in as one character was saying to another; “I would caution you not to seek vengeance, those who do so never survive.” I really wish I could remember what was actually on, but that quote set me to thinking about our bent toward wanting revenge against those who have harmed us.
In Romans 12:17-19 Paul cautions believers against seeking vengeance against their enemies. “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God,[a] for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.’”
Looking at that particular scripture made me begin to think about why God would command us not to seek to get back at those who have hurt us? It seems only natural for us to want a sense of justice for the wrongs we have endured.
God says vengeance belongs to God, not to us. Why? Could it be that God is the only being who can survive meting out recompense to offenders? Considering the overheard quote about those seeking vengeance never surviving, It started to make more and more sense to me. Vengeance has the ability to swallow us, swallow our soul. When revenge is what consumes us, we become pessimistic and our minds are filled with negative energy. It can literally take over and dominate our lives. In that way, the person who harmed us, continues to wreak havoc in our lives.
It’s easy to understand why people seek harsh punishment for perpetrators after a terrible crime, but there are studies which cast doubt on whether harsh punishment in general, actually brings relief and the peace of mind those who have been harmed deserve. “A 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people who were taken advantage of financially by someone else thought they would feel better if they exacted revenge. In fact, punishing the offender actually made them feel worse, apparently because meting out a punishment caused them to think about the offender more and dwell on the negative incident. They didn’t feel as bad when someone else did the punishing for them—but even then, they felt no better than people who didn’t pursue punishment at all.”
Maybe, as finite beings, we were not created with the capacity for vengeance. Maybe our Loving God created us for love, and as such we cannot derive satisfaction from exacting revenge. Maybe, the closure we need to our hurts can only come from our forgiving of the other. Maybe this is why we are told vengeance belongs only to God. Maybe that’s why Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness to the degree we are able to offer forgiveness to others.
May we remind ourselves daily of our need for forgiveness, and of what we receive when we also forgive. God’s forgiveness, closure of old wounds, and a peace that passes all understanding.
Your fellow traveler on the Way,