The Rationale for Revenge?

In his small, but potent book, The Problem of Pain, Clive Lewis looks at the visceral notion of revenge, the following is one excerpt, 

“Revenge loses sight of the end in the means, but it's end is not wholly bad - it wants the evil of the bad man to be to him what it is to everyone else. This is proved by the fact that the avenger wants the guilty party not merely to suffer, but to suffer at his hands, and to know it, and to know why. Hence the impulse to taunt the guilty man with his crime at the moment of taking vengeance: hence, too, such natural expressions as 'I wonder how he'd like it if the same thing were done to him' or 'I'll teach him'. For the same reason when we are going to abuse a man in words we say we are going to 'let him know what we think of him'.” 

This wanting the perpetrator to ‘feel’, to experience at least a like or ‘in kind’ measure of the loss, pain, grief that has been experienced by the victim does have its roots in justice. By that I don’t mean simply a punishment for a wrongdoing, rather a desire for the perpetrator to understand, if only in part, some of the harm done. The intent is to plant a monument in the heart of the perpetrator that would act as a clear reminder not to repeat such an act. Such templates exist in many cultures. Akin to, “If you really knew how hurtful this was, you would never do it again, so taste this and see!” 

This is not an unreasonable outcome; the sentiment even has a strong scent of ‘rightness’ about it. This justice infused permanent reminder has a purpose, not merely to shame, but more, that shame to prevent future harms in and through the perpetrator. 

One of the most robust versions of this can be seen in the ‘eye for an eye’ mandate. The perpetrator experiencing exactly what they have inflicted on the other should engender an all-be-it coercive incentive not to repeat that act. But, as we see the human heart that has no regard for law, has little view of justice, and in that recalcitrant state, sees this vehicle, not a reforming tool, but simply a retributive one. 

However, the subjectivity of that sense of hurt or injustice and its accompanying potent passion, is what is informing the victims ‘revenge response’, more than the objective sense of loss, and here in lies one of the problems with revenge. 

This is why the Omniscient and Omnibenevolent God of the Bible gave instructions through the Apostle Paul, around this incredibly sensitive issue, but taking the standing orders of Heaven as recorded in Deuteronomy 32:35 and framed them within the New Covenant context 

Never hold a grudge or try to get even, but plan your life around the noblest way to benefit others. Do your best to live as everybody’s friend. Beloved, don’t be obsessed with taking revenge, but leave that to God’s righteous justice. For the Scriptures say: “If you don’t take justice in your own hands, I will release justice for you,” says the Lord.  

 Romans 12:17-19 The Passion Translation 

You see only the Perfect Triune God has the perfect insight into not only the deed and the harm, but the very heart of both victim and perpetrator. This perfect insight, along with His redemptive passion to instruct, restore and develop is what informs His judgements. 

The redemptive focus is often lost on us in the maelstrom of the perceived egregious injustice – harm, we have experienced, felt, and has impacted our lives. 

God is Just, but He is also Merciful and Gracious – both incredible gifts that anyone who calls themselves Christian, has truly experienced. As such, our Heavenly Father calls us to respond with – yes wisdom and discernment (particularly for the callous and dangerous) – but with forgiveness and mercy, the gift of not giving someone what we believe they deserve. The very same undeserved favours we have received. 

“In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the Cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another.” Pastor Andy Stanley 

I want to close with a quote from author of Acceptance Therapy, Lisa O. Engelhardt, that can inform our preparation as we develop a heart and mind of Grace and Mercy – as The Holy Spirit continues, by our surrender, to form The Christ in us. 

“Set the compass of your heart to forgiveness, it will help lead your soul out of bitterness.”

Shane W. Varcoe