I watched season 2 of a show called Justified on DVD this past week. The show is anchored in powerful, well crafted story telling. It does have a fair bit of violence and language in it - so choose whether to watch it accordingly. (At one point in my life, I would not have watched a show with such material, or I at least would have felt guilty for it, but I’m in a different place now. Not more or less holy/sanctified, just different.)
Without giving spoilers, season two ends on a climax that deals with revenge. One character is pointing a gun at another character, debating whether they should pull the trigger as payback for certain actions.
In the dialogue of the scene, a third character is asking that the trigger not be pulled. This character tells the gun-holder “If you pull that trigger, your life is going to change forever…and not for the better.”
The thing about revenge is that, not only does it not heal a wound, it creates new ones: guilt over what you’ve done, and the injury to the other person.
If that person, or their family members decide to take revenge for what you did, you’re in a never ending cycle, perpetuating hurt and hate.
I started thinking about this in the context of what I read in a book written by Bishop Desmond Tutu called “No Future Without Forgiveness”. South Africa, divided and full of rage over the years of apartheid, where a white minority systematically oppressed a black majority, was attempting to enter into peaceful cohabitation. Many feared that the blacks would slaughter the whites in vengance.
But something alltogether different occured: The government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whereby crimes and attrocities on both sides (there were blacks who fought back with violence - and in war, terrible things always occur) could confess what they had done and avoid judicial punishment.
That’s right: if you said what you did, truthfully and completely, you were not held liable. People got to hear the facts about the death of their loved ones - how they died, who killed them, where the bodies were located, etc. Amazingly, this lead to a great deal of forgiveness.
People were tired of bloodshed. Most yearned for peace. Instead of dealing with skeletons in the closet and trying to pretend that they don’t exist, South Africa laid them to rest.
By ending the cycle of revenge, hurts could begin to heal. South Africa is far from perfect, but they have never descended into the genocidal civil war many expected.
Jesus said that loving people who love you back is easy. (Matthew 5:46)
The Children of God are called to love the wicked. What a war we are called to fight when our weapons are love, mercy and grace.
You may think this is a great way to lose, but I look at leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who used patience and endurance to defeat tyrannical forces.
In Romans 12:19, Paul even says not to take revenge. That’s a job best left up to God. He knows when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t. Our job is to love, not settle scores.