We are created with an innate understanding of justice – gather together any two toddlers and give them sweets, ensuring one gets more than the other, and you’ll see immediately that the child who has less knows and wants it set right. From the very earliest times in our life, we know when things are fair and when they are not.
None of us likes to think of justice going undone, and ultimately as a species, I think we strive for equal treatment, at least for ourselves, and we recognise selfishness and injustice when we see it, and are affected.
Yet there is another side to Lady Justice, for if the hurt caused by unfairness is taken and mixed with anger, all too often she can twist, darken in appearance and her sister, Vengeance, appears, and the rallying battle cry “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth!” begins to be heard.
The desire for revenge on those who have hurt us can be hugely powerful. I would be surprised if there’s a person alive who hasn’t felt the swelling darkness of rage building in their belly, tasted its strength and wondered what it would be like to unleash.
It’s addictive, too. It can captivate the thoughts, whisking the imagination away on flights of tainted fancy as the mind provides suggestions for how to extract that justice in the most pain-enducing way possible. How can I get my own back? becomes a vile treasure, gloried in and examined frequently to see what ways there might be to bring the thoughts to fruition.
If we’re not careful, it can consume us and become the purpose of our life, and all the while, life slips away beyond our distracted gaze – we miss the beauty and goodness around us whilst we are held captive in that initial moment of pain and the poisonous thoughts we’ve allowed to bloom in response.
How to get out of it, then?
It’s something I struggled with for many years. Experiences as a child and adolescent left me incandescent with rage and the desire to get my own back, to bring pain to those who’d hurt me was sometimes overwhelming. I’d siphon off small portions of that pain and anger into poetry (oh, so teenage-angsty), some I turned against myself, and most of it just sat there, simmering, keeping me hooked into all the bad circumstances which had affected my path through life. I was trapped.
And forgiveness? That pure-white concept preached to little-girl me from shining pulpit – that paragon action of virtue and spirit and faith? The one paraded in each rendition of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”?
I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to let any of them off the hook – not for anything. I wanted to cause pain like they’d caused me – I wanted to see them suffer and panic and beg. I wanted to see the terror in their eyes as they realised that I would show no mercy for the things I’d been through at their hands. I wanted to deliver their punishment and watch and revel as vengeance was exacted. So what if it meant I could never be forgiven? My transgressions were smaller than theirs anyway!
…there was always that nagging feeling that I was wrong to want this, and that made it worse, because I so, so, wanted it. And feeling guilty and tainted and off-kilter about it was discomfitting.
Then one day, it clicked. I ‘got’ it! Forgiveness – Christian forgiveness – isn’t quite like that, which is a relief, as it makes it easier to stick with the faith (and goodness knows that’s hard enough at times).
It’s not ‘letting them off the hook’. It’s not forgetting what has happened. It’s not ‘being okay’ with it or some magical way to avoid the consequences and hurt and pain of what happened. It doesn’t condone their actions or suggest in any way, shape or form that what they did was allowable or acceptable.
It’s transference. And with that transference, freedom – freedom from being hooked into those moments which have caused such hurt. Freedom from the ever-churning of the mind seeking vengeance. Freedom from captivity to those thoughts of rage. Freedom to engage in life, in light, in the Good things which come our way, without that ever-present, brooding darkness.
We learn that God is a God of love, yes, but also of justice, and He takes very seriously the transgressions people make against one another.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”- Romans 12: 17-19
It’s not easy, because the hurts and consequences outplaying of the wrongs done to us are real and challenging and can be awful to endure. We might need to forgive those wrong-doers once, or twice, or every day, or every minute, but it can be done – it needs to be done, so we can get on with our lives.
And it seems so simple on paper, but in truth, we don’t even have to wait until we feel like forgiving (because goodness knows we’d wait forever!) – it’s a CHOICE. We leave it to the wrath of God – we take them off of our hook, and put them squarely onto His.
And believe me, that’s a MUCH bigger hook.
Thanks a bunch, Creative Buzz Hop, for inspiring all this with this week’s prompt – revenge