When I was on holidays, I read a book called Revenge: A Story of Hope, written by Laura Blumenfeld, a young American journalist. A true story which is quite fascinating.
It’s about her quest for revenge. Her father was shot and slightly injured in an alley in Jerusalem in 1986 by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) responsible for attacks on tourists. Her father was a tourist visiting Jerusalem at the time.
Her father wasn’t injured—the bullet grazed the top of his head, and he did not have any serious injuries. But Laura wanted revenge—she travelled the globe, finding out how cultures handled revenge. She explored the dynamic of hatred, while trying to deal with her own outrage. It is an amazing story, and I thoroughly recommend the book, published in 2002—the psychology of vengeance.
Don’t Start a Cycle of Violence
TV shows sometimes also tell the story of revenge. And they are usually very popular. Why? From movies like True Grit, Star Wars, The Count of Monte Cristo: here are stories that are gripping; stories of people who are driven by revenge. It seems to touch something deep within us. We want to see justice done for past wrongs. Maybe you’ve experienced something like that—and it hurts.
Have you heard the phrase, Revenge is a dish best served cold—meaning that revenge is sweeter when the revenge seeker is patient, biding his or her time, waiting, and then striking. We feel, You hurt me, so I’m going to hurt you. You cheated on me, so it’s only right I do the same to you. You raised your voice at me, I’m going to retaliate, only this time my voice will be louder.
But let’s remember getting even never works—you unleash this whole cycle of retribution and violence. It never ends because someone always wants to have the last word. In the process of hurting that person, you end up hurting yourself. Some say, Revenge is sweet. Not true: revenge is never sweet. It’s bitter and always destructive—there is a better way. The Bible says this in Romans:
…do not seek revenge. Instead, allow God’s wrath to make sure justice is served. Turn it over to Him. For the Scriptures say, “Revenge is Mine. I will settle all scores.” But consider this bit of wisdom: “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink; because if you treat him kindly, it will be like heaping hot coals on top of his head. Never let evil get the best of you; instead overpower evil with the good. (Romans 12:19-21 – The Voice)
Let God Be the Judge
Here is revolutionary thinking: let revenge go to God and allow him to deal with that person. Powerful teaching indeed.
Easier said than done—but it’s worth putting into action. Paul, the writer of Romans, quotes from Deuteronomy 32 in the OT, which is clear—God will deal with vengeance. It’s not up to us—ever. No exceptions. Anyone can seek the forgiveness of God, even the worst criminal. We can’t judge that person or harbour resentment toward them. God has forgiven us, and he extends his love and forgiveness to all people.
What happens when we try to take vengeance into our own hands? The answer is: we almost always make a mess of things. We are either too harsh or too weak. We attack the wrong person in the wrong way. We say the wrong things and we end up making things worse and not better. A just vengeance is the speciality of God. How do we know? Paul shows us here. He quotes from the Bible and he says, “It is written.” We can rely on that as divine truth. You can mess things up by trying to take vengeance on those who have hurt you and your loved ones.
So leave it to God! He is perfect in his judgments. He is far better at it than you will ever be. So, vengeance is the work of God, not yours.