During the 1980’s filmmaker Clint Eastwood starred in the film series, Dirty Harry. The storyline portrayed a police officer on a rampage of revenge against the criminals in his community. Although it became wildly successful, the problem with this premise was, as he went after the criminals to take revenge, he became a criminal. The film series caused an uproar within communities plagued by crime, with the mantra, “Take back the streets” from the criminals. Communities around the nation became newsworthy, airing various types of vigilante style murders “taking back the streets.” Charles Bronson’s, Death Wish film series continued touting the same mantra. But again, it made the man taking the streets back from the criminals, a criminal himself. America’s urban communities plagued by heinous crimes learned a new word, vigilante.
Although the word “vigilante” was new, the premise was as old as the Bible itself. Found in Exodus 21:22-27, the concept of an “eye for an eye” came directly from our Bible. It is an Old Testament adage based on revenge, vengeance, and/or debt repayment. It directs the slighted person to avenge a wrong enacted against a family or household member, by inflicting equal harm to the perpetrator. In a world where this was the norm, two things were true. Potential perpetrators lived with the fear that anything they did, would be done to them; and potential victims knew that, if a wrong was enacted against them, and they lived, they had the right to enact an equal act to their offender. All anger had to be tempered, because no one really knew who was crazy enough not to care whether they suffered the same fate as their victim or not.
Then came Jesus! Jesus took the Old Testament standard and inverted it to our benefit, asking us to love our neighbors as ourselves, forgive our enemies, and leave all vengeance to God. He taught us that we shared the same fate as the offender if we took revenge into our own hands. Furthermore, in our quest to truly become the children of God, we were to forgive our enemies; not take their eyes, hands, feet, children, etc. It is an intrinsic premise that is still as difficult today for us to follow, as it was when He taught it to His disciples two-thousand years ago.
The basic problem with revenge is, it never stops. Every time someone feels slighted enough to take matters into their own hands, there’s now someone new who feels exactly the same way after the revenge is taken. It becomes a vicious cycle that never ends. Jesus wanted us to understand that in forgiving the debts incurred by others, we achieved forgiveness for any debts we owed. And in ending the cycle, we accepted the promise of inner peace, instead of carrying the burden and evil of revenge.
The story of Absalom avenging the rape of his sister Tamar, in 2 Samuel 13, was methodically planned out. Absalom knew exactly how Amnon, his half-brother, would suffer for raping and discarding his sister. However, once the murder was completed, it placed a permanent wedge between his father, King David, and himself. In addition, the wedge would later cause a rift within the kingdom of Israel between those who wanted to follow Absalom, and those who preferred the rule of King David. The rift would eventually turn into a deep chasm, costing Absalom his life.
Like Absalom, we can accept the hatred, contempt, and burden of revenge; or we can accept inner peace, by understanding that all vengeance belongs to God. L.
Study Reference: Romans 12:17-21, Exodus 21:22-27
From:"An Eye for An Eye." In The Master's Hands: 365 Daily Devotions For Everyday Living.
Copyright © 2014 by Lavona E. Campbell