What Is the Bible’s View?
Should You Retaliate?
“I’LL get you for that!” Does that threat sound familiar to you? Throughout human history it has been common for people to return evil for evil, or to retaliate. This attitude is especially widespread today.
Retaliation takes many forms. Youngsters often hit back at other youths who may annoy them. Angry motorists retaliate against other motorists or pedestrians by honking horns or by trying to obstruct other drivers in some way. Family members retaliate by shouting at one another or by giving the “silent treatment.” Retaliation has snuffed out the lives of millions of persons in international wars and in “blood feuds” between families or clans.
Why do people retaliate? For some, “getting even” is a matter of pride. Others reason that, if a person does not retaliate when injured or wronged, he is actually encouraging others to take advantage of him.
How do you feel? If someone mistreats you, would it be wise to overlook the matter? Or should you retaliate?
No one knows more about how humans should treat one another than does Jehovah God, our Creator. God’s viewpoint of how people should respond when pressured by others is contained in the Holy Scriptures, which are “inspired of God and beneficial for . . . setting things straight.” (2 Tim. 3:16) What, then, does the Bible say about retaliation?
At Proverbs 24:29, God’s Word instructs: “Do not say: ‘Just as he did to me, so I am going to do to him.’” First Peter 3:9 adds that Christians are not to pay back “reviling for reviling.” So retaliation, in word as well as deed, is to be avoided. Even thinking about returning evil for evil displeases God. “A heart fabricating hurtful schemes” is listed among the “six things that Jehovah does hate.”—Prov. 6:16, 18.
Instead of retaliation, the Bible encourages forgiveness and the showing of love to all, even to one’s enemies. (Luke 17:3, 4; 10:27; 6:27, 35) In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stressed the importance of forgiveness, saying: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; whereas if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—Matt. 6:14, 15.
But is it practical to follow such advice? Yes. Those who are determined to get back at someone for a grievance are likely to make matters worse. Proverbs 26:21 states: “As charcoal for the embers and wood for the fire, so is a contentious man for causing a quarrel to glow.” On the other hand, persons who refuse to return evil for evil often find that the situation improves for them. “An answer, when mild, turns away rage.”—Prov. 15:1.
Also, the Scriptures warn: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” (Prov. 16:18) In Jehovah’s eyes a person who retaliates lowers himself to the level of the one who offended him.—Prov. 26:4.
One’s physical health may be involved too. Emotions such as anger, hatred and resentment, which often lead to retaliation, can be very damaging to health. American Dr. T. R. Van Dellen recently observed: “Anger rarely is listed on a death certificate, but the emotion is a more common cause of death than many people believe.” Dr. Hans Selye, director of the University of Montreal’s Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, pointed out:
“It is not the hated person or the frustrating boss who will get ulcers, hypertensions, and heart disease. It is the one who hates or the one who permits himself to be frustrated. ‘Love thy neighbor’ is one of the safest bits of medical advice ever given.”
Besides this, one who tries to avenge the wrongs committed against him is really out of order. Why so? Because, at Romans 12:19, God’s Word says: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” One who retaliates is thus presuming to play the role of God.
People alive today can especially take heart. Why? Because they have seen a worldwide fulfillment of the “sign” Jesus gave regarding “the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matt. 24:3–25:46) The present generation, therefore, will yet live to see God take action to rid the earth of all forms of wickedness.—Matt. 24:32-34.
A person who obeys the Scriptural counsel not to retaliate may find that others accuse him of cowardice. But is such an accusation justified? In your own experience, what have you found demands more courage: to lose one’s temper and retaliate, or to maintain self-control? God’s Word declares: “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man, and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city.”—Prov. 16:32.
Contrast with this what is said at Proverbs 25:28: “As a city broken through, without a wall, is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.” Do you wish to become like a city left wide open for attack by hostile forces? Are people who encourage strife the ones you want to impress? The Scriptures counsel: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger; and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in, that you may not get familiar with his paths and certainly take a snare for your soul.”—Prov. 22:24, 25.
Jehovah God sets the perfect pattern for how persons should react when provoked. The psalmist wrote of Jehovah: “He has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve.”—Ps. 103:10.
But, even if you do your best to avoid strife and those who cause it, others will surely irritate you at times. How should you react if this happens?
Well, what did Jesus do when faithless opposers of God’s truth sought to harm him? First Peter 2:23 informs us: “When he was being reviled, he did not go reviling in return. When he was suffering, he did not go threatening.” What did Jesus do instead of retaliating? The same verse continues: “But [he] kept on committing himself to the one who judges righteously.” Because of Jesus’ faithful dependence upon his Father when under pressure, Jehovah God sustained him through all his trials. God will do the same for you if you follow Christ’s faithful example and “throw your burden upon Jehovah himself,” instead of trying to avenge yourself.—Ps. 55:22; 1 Pet. 2:21; 5:9, 10.
These are powerful reasons to shun retaliation. It violates God’s commands and can, therefore, mar one’s relationship with Jehovah. The emotions associated with retaliation can give rise to serious physical disorders. A determination to get even can lead to more serious violations of God’s law, including violence and murder. In addition to this, Jehovah promises that he himself will soon remove all wickedness. In view of this, should you retaliate?