Friday, December 21, 2007

Is Vengeance Mine?

I overheard a conversation the other day that really bothered me. Two guys were talking about vengeance. One said he thought it should be like the Bible says ~ an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. He stated that if someone hung someone, they should be hung. If they tortured someone to death, they should be tortured to death. He said that that was the only way someone would learn their lesson. It never ceases to amaze me how people can pick a few words out of the Bible out of context and quote it as complete truth. And they then fail to recognize what the Bible says that contradicts their belief. Here is what I found in relation to vengeance:

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matt 5:38-39 (ESV)

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Matt 5:43-47 (ESV)

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
Lev 19:17-18 (ESV)

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20 To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head."
Romans 12:17-20 (ESV)

Now, why would God tell us to not repay violence with violence? Does he want us to be a doormat? Does he want us to suffer at the hands of our enemies without defending ourselves? Does he not understand how cruel people can be to each other?

The truth is that God knows that more fire only feeds a fire. When I was in college I completed an internship at Boys Republic in Chino, CA. Boys Republic is a treatment 'community' for boys with emotional and behavioral problems. At the time, many of the boys were gang members. When the director first interviewed me, he asked me several situational questions. One was how would I react if faced with a boy that was very aggressive and confrontational toward me. Remember, I was 21 (and looked about 15), and 4'10". My mind was thinking about the quickest way to defend myself against some wild teenage boy who towered over me. The correct answer, he told me, was to take on a relaxed nonchalant stance, maybe leaning against a wall, and to speak quietly. Hmmm, not my first reaction. The truth was that they would simmer down if not confronted. They were looking for a fight. They were looking for someone to fight with. If you didn't feed their fire, it would extinguish itself.

I have since gone on to work as a correctional officer at a medium security men's prison, and to work with teenage boys with behavioral problems in a public high school setting. I had a problem once at the prison with a man exposing himself to me during a block check. I calmly stepped outside the door and told him to get dressed and step out for roll call. He tried getting real defensive, and trying to egg me on. I just quietly told him that I was not making an issue of it, and would he please get dressed and come into the hall before an issue was made. He got dressed and came out. I never had another problem with him. He would quietly (without looking me in the eye) always say "good morning CO". And that was the end of that. No pepper spray or strong arming necessary.

I was given a boy to work with at the high school who was constantly agitated. Other staff protested saying that he needed a man to control him, not some short, weak woman. They said they were concerned for my safety. (they didn't know I had beat up a bully in my younger days ;D) Another boy would get angry at the way people would tease him, and strike out. We had a walk and talk policy. We would walk the track and talk. I never had a problem with either the men at the prison, or the boys at the high school. I was not a threat. I was calming. I was non-confrontational. It was a more effective way. I didn't know at the time that it worked because it was God's plan. They learned a new way to react to situations. They also learned that it takes two to battle.

Vengeance never diffuses anger. You may be able to get a person to surrender and submit, but even though their arms aren't flailing, their mind is turning. They are planning how to rise up against you. That is why countries controlled by a dictatorship are always full of civil uprising. Anger, control, confrontation, violence - they all feed aggression. And it never ends at an eye for an eye. It is always - 'they took one eye, I will take two'! Look at gang warfare. One gang shoots a member of another gang. They retaliate by shooting a family member of a member of the first gang. They retaliate by killing an entire family of the other gang. It never stops, and it continues to escalate. That's how family feuds get started. That is how wars begin.

All people learn by example. We can start by setting an example of peace and forgiveness. My prayer is for a world where there is truly peace on earth and good will toward ALL men.

Have a wonderful Christmas! And please remember the king at the center of the celebration!

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2:14 (KJV)


Rev Colin said...

How true! In Deuteronomy Ch.32, Moses speaks to the assembly of Israel, and verse 35 teaches that vengeance belongs to God. The problem with the average person is that when upset they can be like an angry cobra and strike out before anything else!
As Christians we are to follow the example of our Lord Jesus, and that means exactly what you said: 'an example of peace and forgiveness.'
If someone raises their voice in anger at you the answer is to lower your voice when you respond to them. A quieter voice has a calming effect, whilst raisonly makes the other person shout even louder.
Have a GREAT CHRISTmas, and every blessing to you and yours!

Starr said...

I needed this really bad today. Cabot and I have had a rough few days with his mom, and, boy is it hard not to lash back out at her. Thanks for reminding me that it is always better to stay calm and collected, no matter how someone is treating you. Like you stated, anger begats anger. A person cannot fight by themself, can they? We need your prayers on this one, if you don't mind. This is a tremendously difficult situation we are in with her and it's hard to remember that vengeance belongs to God, not us. Thanks for your words. They really touched a place in my heart today.