Do not say, “I’ll do to him as he has done to me; I’ll pay that man back for what he did.” Proverbs 24, verse 29.
In a matter of not too many days, I’ll be forty five. To some reading this, that isn’t very old; to others, I’m ancient. Much has been packed into my trips around the sun. Marriage, family, trouble; death, rebirth, first birth; jobs, losing jobs, real vocation; faith, hurt, and love, real love; losing, winning and forgiveness: these and so many more things are the mileposts by which I’m blessed to measure my life so far.
There’s one thing I’ve learned above all else worldly: revenge sucks. Let’s just say it like it is: revenge really sucks. Revenge has been done to me by the unlikeliest of people and the dearest hearts. I’ve caused good people to stumble and fall into sins they might not ever have contemplated on their own. In return, in their good time, they extracted revenge. Sometimes I deserved it, sometimes I didn’t. I’ve paid for the wrongs done by others with years of bitter harvest; in return, I sowed the seeds of more bitterness. I’ve been emotionally beaten and physically and metaphorically bruised to where grudges were buried so deep you don’t even realize how toxic they really are. Through all, I learned that it is a cold and lonely thing to want revenge on another child of God.
It’s cold and lonely because it serves to gratify our most base desire, namely to be God ourselves. We all know the platitude about ‘revenge is mine, sayeth the Lord.’ To be honest, I have no idea if that’s in Scripture or not, nor do I really care. Its lesson is still true: we want the power of exacting revenge on others so we can feel like God. After all, if you’ve been beaten by your husband, he deserves a taste of his own, right? If you have submitted time and again and felt cheated and let down, your mate deserves to feel what it feels like to walk around in your shoes, right? When bullies have taken pieces of your hide, it’s only fair that they get what’s coming to them, right? Someone has to pay, right???
You know the answer.
You know it because what the verse says is more than just a caution. It’s the foundation, the building block of real peace. We can’t be at peace if we let the demons of the past still nag us in the present. There can be no forward motion if emotion anchors me to unresolved issues that shaped me into who I am today. Love is a lie if it is based on making up for shortcomings of yesterday instead of selflessly sharing the miraculous blessing that God gives us in the loving. Without truly knowing that we were made for love instead of revenge, then peace, tomorrow and love are simply unrequited dreams, unanswered prayers. They are elusive goals instead of tangible gifts. In time, with enough defeat and sadness thrown into the mix, they seem to mock us, teasing us to catch them if we can, grasp hold of what we’ve always just barely missed.
In my middle age, that’s an option I choose to pass up.
I choose to pass it up because I’m finally embracing that I was made for something better. I was made to serve, to love, and to use what talent I have to do my best wherever God places me. He didn’t put me here to focus of all the unhappiness that I’ve tugged along like heavy baggage. He didn’t impart His love into my life to let it be dragged down by the defeat of my sins. He didn’t give me talent to squander it on something petty. And He didn’t make me to take revenge on people hurting in ways other than how I hurt.
More than any of this, though, I’ll pass up revenge because the dues for all my junk have already been paid in full in ways I could never begin to comprehend.
Instead of revenge, He made you and I to do something better. You know this, too, and I hope you haven’t misplaced it. He made us to love each other, to pass up on dwelling on the hurt and move beyond it. Instead of revenge, He made us for forgiveness. Instead of unhappiness, He made us for joy. Instead of worry, which dishonors Him and us alike, He made us to trust and let go of the hurt that holds us back. On a day like today, He reminds me of these things by saying, “it’s time to let go and let me work my thrilling love in your life, Dave. That Golden Rule I taught really is worth more than gold.” And these days, gold is worth more than it’s ever been worth in all of human history.
Pretty amazing thing, don’t you think. And it’s not a bad thought with which to end a long and struggle-prone work-week. There have been successes this week; I’m thankful for them. There have been failures both in and out of the office, and I’m thankful for them too. For the success I’ll gladly deny all credit, embracing that I’ve only been privileged to use the gifts given to me by others. For the failures, I’ll now gladly eschew revenge and forswear some twisted repayment against perceived slights and mirage-like wrongs. I was made for better. So, my friend, were you. You don’t need a middle-age crazy Texan to tell you that. You need only follow a better voice that’s calling you to become better by listening to Him. Take it from me: revenge sucks. It’s beneath us, and it’s really not worth the time. I’m ashamed that it took me forty-five years to learn this, but thankful the next forty-five can be lived in light of this truth.