Tolstoy wrote about an honest and hardworking Russian peasant who spent the night in a local inn. Someone was brutally murdered 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.
Then, the real murderer was placed in prison and caught attempting to escape. One prisoner witnessed 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 to finally obtain the revenge he sought for twenty-six long years. If you were that peasant, what would you do?
Revenge! Revenge! “Don’t get mad, get even!” 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?
The Bible calls revenge, vengeance and has something to say: “Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, “I will take vengeance;” (Romans 12:19)
Never avenge yourself. Leave that to God.
Personally, I don’t like God’s emphasis on “never avenge.” I would want to alter the language and say — occasionally. Certainly there should be exceptions for extreme examples such as our Russian peasant. I would make an exception and say “avenge occasionally.”
I would say that but I would be wrong. God says very clearly, “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 would wisely choose, not vengeance but mercy.
As Saul 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 in his life, 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 but not revenge.
When someone is treated unfairly and can somehow project a loving and forgiving response toward the one who hurt him/her? That can be the best possible witness of integrity and faith.
Remember the Russian peasant in the story I mentioned earlier? He had his own opportunity to “get even” with the man who ruined his life. But instead of jumping at the chance, the story describes the peasant as experiencing the overpowering grace and love of God. The darkness within was filled with light and the peasant found himself saying to the officers: “I saw nothing.”
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 saying 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.
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 character and our faith.
Never avenge yourself. Leave that to God!