A Formula for Resisting Revenge
Revenge has become a popular response of choice in today’s social environment. When confronted with meanness, crimes, and atrocities, Christians as well as non-Christians often find themselves fantasizing about the prospect of revenge. When we are treated badly, physically or emotionally, it is natural to feel bad, then get mad. The offended party just wants revenge.
Dimensions of Revenge
Shakespeare understood the universal appeal of revenge when he said: “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
While revenge may be a natural response, there is a better way to respond to an offense. Nelson Mandela observed, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for it to kill your enemy.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., highlighted a loftier way to respond to an offense when he said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Impact of Choice
While we may be ambivalent about the merits of revenge, Jesus was clear: His alternative for revenge is love and forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer He outlined that the path for any person to receive forgiveness from God is contingent on first forgiving those who cause offense (see Matt. 6:12). Simply stated, if we want forgiveness, we have to forgive. Our willingness to forgive is one of the quintessential tests of our Christianity.
Fortunately, God has promised to help us with this daunting task. We are invited: “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Ps. 55:22).
The formula E + R = O (Event plus Response equals Outcome), popularized in self-improvement circles, helps us get a handle on controlling our desire for revenge. When we are offended, that is an event. How we relate to that event is our response, which has a significant impact on the outcome. When offended, if we respond with the natural urge to get revenge, the outcome will be contaminated with selfishness and expose us to a string of negative consequences. However, if, by God’s grace, and as recipients of His forgiveness, we respond out of love and forgiveness, our response will facilitate an outcome that will be blessed by God and will open us up to providential successes.
Choices We Make
The practical effect of the formula is illustrated by the following two stories: Gertrude Moyana and Sarah Letanta were both victims of South Africa’s political violence in the 1990s.*
Gertrude’s story: “It was a time of terrible bloodshed and violence. . . . I was shot twice while walking home from work. The first bullet went through the back of my thigh, breaking my hip. The next bullet went through my back and came out through my nipple. Two years later I came face to face with my assailant in court. But I didn’t hate him, because I didn’t want to stay sick. Today I can walk only because I did not let hate sit in my heart.”
Sarah’s story: “I was walking down the street, carrying a baby, when I was shot. The baby wasn’t hurt, but I felt this weakness, and my walking got slow. . . . Then I collapsed. I was convinced I would die. I survived, but only just. . . . I hate the people who did this to me. I’d like revenge. . . . The three bullets are still embedded in me. My pain never goes away, so I can’t forget.”
Two stories, two reactions. For us to be in good health, to be in a right relationship with God and others, it is incumbent to forgive and shun the urge for revenge. Bad events happen; they come with living. Our responses, if we so choose, can be loving ones. If so, the outcome, guided by providence, will propel us to the next level of growth, sanctification, and opportunity. Choose love, starting today.