Is Vengeance Wrong?
On a freeway in the United States, a car was slow to pull over and let another one pass. The driver of the second car retaliated by shooting at the offending vehicle, killing an innocent passenger.
A teenage girl lost a part in a school play to another girl. She got back at her by telling the girl’s boyfriend that the girl was seeing a boy in another school. She thus ruined the girl’s relationship with the boyfriend.
MANY people feel justified in retaliating when they think they have been wronged. In one way or another, they follow the motto: “Don’t get mad, get even.” Today, love of neighbor is at a low ebb, and the spirit of vengeance is on the rise.—Matthew 24:12.
How do you, though, view vengeance? If you believe the Bible, perhaps you feel that in principle vengeance is wrong. But living as we do in an ungodly world, you may feel that forgiveness, the opposite of vengefulness, is often unrealistic. How would you react if you were cheated or mugged? Do you become vindictive if someone ignores you or speaks disparagingly about you to others? Are you vengeful or forgiving?
A Vindictive Attitude Hurts
Of course, there are degrees of offense. But most people who want to get back at someone have not been mugged or criminally assaulted. The “offenses” quoted at the beginning of this article were rather insignificant, although they loomed large in the minds of the ones who decided to get even.
The Bible says that we should not cultivate a vengeful attitude. Proverbs 24:29 counsels: “Do not say: ‘Just as he did to me, so I am going to do to him.’” Why not? For one thing, such an attitude is emotionally and physically damaging. Vengeful thoughts take away peace of mind and hinder sound reasoning. Consider this news report: “Two farmers shooting from their pickup trucks killed each other in a parking lot, ending a 40-year feud that began when they were children.” Imagine, throughout their lives the thinking of these two men had been poisoned by a festering, vengeful spirit!—Proverbs 14:29, 30.
Another reason not to cultivate a vengeful spirit is that erring ones—even seriously erring ones—can change. The apostle Paul, for example, at one time ‘approved of the murder’ of the disciple Stephen and ‘breathed threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord.’ But he changed. Years later the apostle Peter—whose life had been in danger from Paul during that earlier time—called him “our beloved brother Paul.” (Acts 8:1; 9:1; 2 Peter 3:15) Christians could have tried to take revenge on Paul, especially when he was waiting, blind, in Damascus. (Acts 9:3-15) What a tragic mistake that would have been!
Paul could well counsel, therefore, at Romans 12:20: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” Why? Because if we avenge ourselves on an enemy, we harden his attitude and cement the enmity between us. But if we do good to one who offends or hurts us, we may soften his attitude and make a former enemy into a friend.
Recognizing our own weaknesses also helps in overcoming the bitterness that leads to a desire for revenge. The psalmist asked: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) All of us have hurt or offended others. Were we not glad if they did not try to get even? Should we not, then, act with similar restraint? Jesus counseled: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
True, the Bible says: “Hate what is bad.” (Psalm 97:10; Amos 5:15) But it does not tell us to hate the one doing the bad. In fact, Jesus commanded us: “Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you.” (Matthew 5:44) If we repay injury for injury, we copy the spirit of the wrongdoer. The ancient proverb says: “Do not say: ‘I will pay back evil!’ Hope in Jehovah, and he will save you.” (Proverbs 20:22) What a wise attitude! How much better to show ourselves the winners by resisting the temptation to imitate wrongdoers.—John 16:33; Romans 12:17, 21.
Of course, some acts are more serious than personal affronts or hurts. What if we are the victim of a crime? Naturally, we feel that in the name of justice, something should be done. But what? In some societies it has not been unusual to handle things personally and get revenge. But such societies have often ended up riven by blood feuds. Today, neither God’s laws nor in most cases man’s laws allow individuals to take personal vengeance for crimes, and for good reason. Such personal violence only breeds more violence.
Should a crime victim, then, sit back and passively take the abuse? Not necessarily. When our person or property is violated, there are authorities to turn to. You may wish to call the police. At work, go to the supervisor. At school, you may wish to see the principal. That is one reason they are there—to uphold justice. The Bible tells us that governmental authorities are “God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.” (Romans 13:4) Justice requires that the government exercise its authority, stop wrongdoing, and punish the wrongdoers.
True, at times justice is slow in coming. One world-weary writer said: “Justice is like a train that’s nearly always late.” Sometimes, indeed, the train never arrives. Doers of injustice may be so powerful that the authorities cannot control them. Still, the wise course is self-restraint. “All his spirit is what a stupid one lets out, but he that is wise keeps it calm to the last,” says the Bible.—Proverbs 29:11.
Restraining ourselves from revenge will thus bring benefits to us, and we can wait calmly, knowing that if justice has to be meted out, God will do it at the proper time. Jehovah is aware that wrongdoing unchecked leads to iniquity. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) He will not allow the hardened wicked to oppress mankind forever. That is why the apostle Paul counseled us: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Romans 12:19) Indeed, the Bible speaks of a day of vengeance on the part of the Creator. What will this day of vengeance be? And who will be the objects of God’s vengeance? We will discuss this in the next article.
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To control sentiments of vengeance, remember that
□ God is concerned with justice
□ harboring a vindictive attitude is harmful
□ being kind often reduces problems with others
□ many of our own trespasses have been overlooked
□ erring ones may change
□ we conquer the world by resisting its ways