June 30, 2019
A Collection of Relevant Verses
2 Corinthians 13:11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Deuteronomy 32:35 Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
Luke 6:27-38 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
Proverbs 24:29 Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.”
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” 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.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Life at our house can be interesting at times. A unique blend of immaturity and revenge. For absolutely no reason other than channeling my inner little boy I would hide behind a piece of furniture or a wall waiting for Carol to walk by and when she did…well, jump our and scare her. At no time did the reality of consequences or paybacks enter my mind, and when they came, maybe a day or two later, they were always followed by the phrase, “See? This only gets you this.” Accentuated with the use of fists.
It’s our family mantra, one we’ve used every day on the kids we taught when appropriate, on our grandson whenever his anger issues made him retaliate at school and get him into trouble. Why, it’ll even be on our headstones. It has to do with retaliating, many times the reflexive kind, but mostly the well-thought out you’re- gonna-pay-for-that kind.
Where did that phrase come from? For me, it’s from a 70’s sit-com that we’re all familiar with, All in the Family. It truly was groundbreaking. As I found and reviewed the episode I remembered, I was amazed at how relevant it still is today, and I wondered if the writing was prescient of today’s Social and Political scenes or if they’ve always been that way, how the right views the left and the left views the right, how Archie viewed Mike as the bleeding heart liberal and Mike viewed Archie as the bigoted conservative, and how these views contributed to the retaliatory reactions that have become so commonplace. I’d like to show you the part I remember so well…
For some reason, that phrase stayed with me. It can be applied to almost every instance of that which comes from wanting to get even and may involve something as innocent as a prank but many times involves anger or hatred or fear or insecurities being manifested, legitimate or not. This will always get you this. Some negative consequence is gonna happen either immediately, or down the road, in kind, or more so. Retaliation, otherwise known as…
Trying to get back at,
Trying to get even,
Paying back in spades,
Being out for blood,
Or believing in just desserts,
There’s many more.
They’re all words or phrases that mean exacting reciprocity for something someone has done to you, deserved or not. And they’re almost always followed by a negative consequence. I’m gonna use the terms interchangeably from now on because no matter how you look at it, they’re all ways to say reacting in an unchristian-like manner.
Vindictiveness is retaliation at its worse and it is pervasive in our life and getting more so. How many news reports have you heard where one driver does something wrong and the other blows his horn or gives the finger or hollers, “Jerk!” Then the first person does something that makes the second person ratchet things up and so on and so forth until it escalates out of control and someone or both pay for it in some way. Road rage. It’s getting worse.
Most of the time we are not even aware that retaliatory behavior is in our repertoire of behaviors. It can be blatant or subtle, calculated or knee jerk, done with or without awareness. The idea of getting even is without a doubt delectable. Look at the phrase “just desserts”. It promises a treat, but much of its sugar is confined to the coating. That minute before and maybe even during the act of getting even is savory, but what about the days and weeks that follow? The actual execution carries a bitter cost of time, but then there are the consequences to consider. Retaliation is usually very nuanced.
Consider the incident at Kent State on May 4th 1970, a classic example of This-Only-Gets-You-This. You try to work backwards to find where and how it all began, but it’s difficult to find a starting point because it’s so nuanced. Anger over Pres. Nixon’s war-time policies, students worked up in a frenzy by what was learned later to be outside sources. There was taunting of the military, staging sit-ins, clashing with police, vandalizing. Rumors abounded. In response, the Governor called in the National Guard, ordering curfews, making hundreds of arrests, and taking away every right of free assembly. It continued and trying to disperse the students with tear gas didn’t work. Anger on both sides increased until…well you all know the rest. Many instances of back and forth retaliation until…Four dead in Ohio.
We learn to get even through our friends and family and other outside sources.
We learn about retaliation from, even applaud it in, literature, film, and music. We root for a come-comeuppance to happen and cheer when it does. We are barraged with the whole idea of revenge. A thirst to get even is as classic as Homer and Hamlet and Hiaasen, as contemporary as Don Corleone and Quentin Tarantino; as old as the eyes and teeth traded in the Bible; as fresh as the raid that took the life of Osama bin Laden. Ever listen to a Taylor Swift or Alanis Morrissette song? Do yourself a favor and Google this year’s Oscar winning short subject called Skin. Reread the Count of Monte Christo. Watch any old episode of Superman or the Lone Ranger. Every Star Wars movie ever made. What was the line from Star Trek? “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
And now vindictiveness in all degrees and forms has become normal in today’s politics. Congress changes majorities and the side who wins gets back at the side that lost. Lock her up! Gerrymandering. Even in religion we see increasingly terrible examples of people of one faith exacting carnage over those of another.
There are many instances of vindictiveness in the Bible, too. Sometimes we see God’s people going all out for justice and retaliating for wrongdoing, and other times we see them being rebuked for seeking retaliation. But from Genesis through the New Testament, the legitimacy of retaliation undergoes four paradigm shifts that Christ finally straightens out.
The whole business of Lamech in Genesis 4 is an example of Unlimited Retaliation being the convention of the day. “Lamech said to his wives: ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold’”
We are given several examples in the Pentateuch that dictate the punishment should fit the crime, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, etc. This is a sort of Limited Retaliation.
There’s the concept of No retaliation or Divine Reciprocity, leave it to God. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”
Earlier on I made the statement that any way you look at it, retaliation is an unchristian behavior. And I let it hang. Let’s come back to it because the fourth and last paradigm shift is Christ introducing Replaced Retaliation, which doesn’t merely avoid revenge but puts something in its place…..grace. This is what Jesus taught. If we are believers, if we call ourselves Christians, then we not only NOT seek revenge we are called to seek the welfare of those who wrong us. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ ”
This last kind of retaliation is the most distinctly Christian and it shocked those when Jesus said it. It went against the conventional beliefs that had always been held, and it went against human nature. It turns the whole matter of getting even around so that it does not become a joy. Instead, the joy is found in a God who is pure love, the greatest source of happiness, peace and satisfaction in life. Grace is incongruous with the concept of a vengeful God. It is God who frees us from the clutches that revenge has on us. “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be at peace?” REPEAT. To be a Christian is to follow Christ’s teachings. Reactions to slights, should be centered on love, the opposite of getting even. If we call ourselves Christians, being retaliatory makes us a hypocrite. And we should recognize this hypocrisy in ourselves whenever we make getting even, and not grace our mantra. We may think the whole business of getting even may be nuanced but the whole business of being a Christian is not! To borrow from Leigh’s sermon a couple weeks ago, this is the good news of Christ. And it’s meant for everyone. “I offer you all peace and good will.”
Trying to be right, getting back at, and exacting revenge is not the answer. It may provide a temporary sense of satisfaction but in the end isn’t worth it because it denigrates the person exacting the revenge. The seemingly difficult, but only answer, according to Christ, is to forgive. Forgiveness is actually for the person who was wronged because it keeps one from storing up anger and bitterness which hurts even more than whatever caused them. Scripture says that bitterness will destroy you like wormwood from the inside out. But forgiveness frees you from the chains the wounder puts on you, and therefore eliminates their ability to control your emotions and actions. Would you rather get even? Or would you rather be at peace? Would you rather stick it to someone? Or would you rather be at peace? Would you rather be right? Or would you rather be at peace?
I think we all would rather be at peace. And for that to happen we must recognize and understand the retaliator in us. And then talk to God. Ask the Lord to grant you the peace and wisdom to let things go. To make you see your part in the entire situation. And to give you the forgiving-tools needed to heal that situation. It always works. If you don’t talk to God you might be afraid that “the bad guys can just get away with it,” or that you must be the avenger to prevent them from getting away with it. Either are losing propositions in some way for you.
The need to get even is a sign of weakness not strength. The Christian who is being transformed into the image of God will not repay or even want to repay evil for evil but will show by his or her good treatment of those who did something to him that his character is becoming more like the character of God, who is love.
Joseph never sought revenge from his brothers who sold him into slavery.
David never took revenge on King Saul as he fought the urge to kill him.
Christ asked forgiveness for those who crucified him.
As did Stephen for those who were stoning him.
As did Paul toward the Jews of his day who persecuted him.
As did Carol who never stooped to her husband’s level of immaturity.
If they all found peace under circumstances much more severe than most any we’ve faced, don’t you think we could, too? Then we’d avoid all the negative things that would have resulted had we retaliated. By talking with God we will be aware of our need to get even, understand its pull, and forgive instead. If we don’t, “This will only get you this.” Every single time. Amen