Tolstoy wrote about an honest and hardworking Russian peasant who spent the night in a local inn. A man was killed and the murderer placed the weapon in the bag of the sleeping peasant. The police discovered it and put the hapless peasant in jail. For twenty-six years the peasant survived the harsh conditions of prison on the bitter hope that someday he would obtain revenge.
After twenty-six years the real murderer was placed in prison and then caught attempting to escape. One prisoner saw everything: the peasant. At long last the opportunity dreamed about since that villainous night twenty-six years ago presented itself, for on the peasant’s word the murderer would be put to death. Here was his big chance. If it were you, what would you do?
This question seems especially appropriate in todays charged political and religious climate.
Ten Medical Missionaries were brutally slain in Afghanistan. Why? For providing eye care? The Taliban claimed responsibility because they were “teaching Christianity to Afghans.” When did teaching religion become an excuse for murder? Wouldn’t it be understandable to seek revenge?
Everyone seems to be either protesting or defending the building of a Muslim Community Center or Mosque in New York city within several blocks of ground zero, site of the 9/11 attacks. On one side is the cherished American ideal expressed by our US Constitution of freedom of religion. On the other side is our concern to preserve and honor those slain by Muslim extremists. Wouldn’t it be understandable to defend our sacred soil and make an exception to religious freedom?
Revenge can also be personal – very personal.
“Don’t get mad, get even!” is our chanted mantra. Maybe an employer treated you unfairly or a coworker climbed to the top over your back. A spouse abandoned you. Your parents failed you. You were “done wrong” as they say and now you are waiting for a chance to retaliate. “Don’t get mad, get even” is a reasonable response in the face of gross unfairness, isn’t it?
God calls it vengeance and has a lot to say about it. “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance;” (Romans 12:19)
Personally, I don’t like God’s emphasis on “never avenge.” I would want to alter the language and say — occasionally. I would ask for exceptions for extreme examples like our Russian peasant. I would want permission to seek revenge for our missionaries. I would want Islam to know we are serious about protecting the sacred ground around the former Word Trade Center. I would make an exception and say “avenge occasionally.” I would say that but I would be wrong.
God says, “never avenge.” A good Biblical example would be David.
King Saul was insanely jealous of David’s increasing popularity and eventually stripped him of his job, his wife, his best friend and his self-respect, finally forcing him to flee for safety. For years not days, Saul pursued David looking to exterminate him.
One day while pursuing David, ”Saul went into a cave to relieve himself. But as it happened, David and his men were hiding in that very cave!” (1 Samuel 24:3)
What would you do? “’Now’s your opportunity!’ David’s men whispered to him. David crept forward and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe.” (4-5)
What? Why did David do that? Saul was trying to kill him. Why not get even? Instead, he crept close to Saul and performed the equivalent of a teenage prank or practical joke.
Even that small act of defiance made David feel guilty. “The LORD knows I shouldn’t have done it,” he said.” (6)
In the military, it is drilled into you: ‘salute the rank, not the person.’ Saul was anointed by God to be King. David was duty bound to treat the King with respect and honor. David wisely chose mercy and to confront Saul with truth.
As he left the cave, David appeared and held up a piece of his robe. “This proves that I am not trying to harm you and that I have not sinned against you, even though you have been hunting for me to kill me. The LORD will decide between us. Perhaps the LORD will punish you for what you are trying to do to me, but I will never harm you.” (11-12)
David’s refusal to succumb to the temptation of “getting even” was a turning point because he chose to do what was right by repaying evil with good.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. Don’t let evil get the best of you, but conquer evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:20-21) David ultimately chose to place his faith in God not revenge.
- We seek justice for those responsible for murdering the ten medical missionaries in Afghanistan but we honor their memory by continuing to help those in need.
- We continue to fight terrorism and Muslim extremism but we also witness our American and religious heritage by a willingness to respect the rights of all religions including Islam.
- When we are treated unfairly a loving and forgiving response toward the one who hurt us can be the best possible witness of our integrity and our faith.
That night the murderer approached the peasant and on his knees begged for forgiveness. Again, the light of Christ flooded the peasant’s heart: “God will forgive you. Maybe I am a hundred times worse.” And at those words the peasant’s heavy heart grew light as he received God’s comfort.
I don’t know of any better witness to your faith in God than a willingness to forgive someone who has grievously harmed you whether it is a terrorist group, or an individual. Is it easy? Never! Is it necessary and worthwhile? Absolutely! Your willingness to forgive could be the principal turning point in your life, your health, your faith and ultimately could be the best witness of our religion and our American values.
Dear Larry, I just wanted to say a big thank you to you and your prayer partners around the world for their prayers and kind words of encouragement. According to Romans 8:28 All things are working for our good and HIS Glory and that is what is happening in our lives. It is not easy to understand this initially when everything seems to be working against us and Satan seems to be winning – but PRAISE AND THANK GOD for turning things around for our good and favor and building us up through tough and hard times and giving us His victory according to His promise in His word. He is helping us to be more than conquerors through CHRIST who strengthens us and takes care of all our needs. I feel more close to GOD than ever before and it is so peaceful and wonderful. Thank you and GOD bless you always. — Murali