“He hit me!”
“She hit me first!!!”
No one has to teach us to get revenge. It’s born into us. We instinctively know that debts require payment. It’s justice. Yet our sin nature twists that desire so we look for payback instead of reparation. It’s not just that we want them to pay–we want to make them pay.
We want to punish them.
We want to hit back.
Forgiveness requires us to lay aside our right to revenge.
Two things are important to understand:
- Laying aside revenge does not mean we stop seeking justice. Forgiveness does not remove consequences. It does not mean that we don’t report a crime, decline to press charges, or refuse to testify in court. When a person’s actions have harmed us, themselves, or someone else, it is right for us to take the steps necessary so that their actions can be addressed by the appropriate authority. The difference is that we take action to protect others and do what is right–not because we want to do them wrong.
- Laying aside revenge also does not mean putting ourselves in vulnerable positions. Nothing in Scripture requires us to expose ourselves to harm. Laying aside revenge means trusting God to bring justice. It does not mean subjecting yourself to continued abuse.
Giving up our right to revenge means that we accept the sufficiency of the cross. Jesus death on the cross paid the price for all sin–my sin, your sin, and the sins people commit against us. Forgiveness means that we stop demanding repayment. Jesus’ payment is enough.
Relinquishing revenge also means recognizing that justice is God’s job, not our own. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Again, this doesn’t mean we don’t cooperate with the appropriate authority as needed to resolve the situation. Law enforcement, church discipline, and logical consequences are all tools God uses to bring about justice. Giving up revenge means that we trust God to be the just judge he has declared himself to be. We don’t personally have to extract our pound of flesh from people. God has declared that justice is his job. We can trust him to do it.
Giving up our right to revenge means that we stop looking for payback or ways to get even. That might mean:
- We stop fantasizing about giving someone the church-lady smackdown
- Refraining from gossip
- Not giving people the silent treatment or the cold shoulder
- Not attempting to get back at them or looking for ways to get even
- Recognizing our passive-aggressive behaviors for what they are and openly working through conflict
- Being honest with the appropriate people–not trashing them to your whole circle of acquaintances
As we look to God for our healing we also trust him to bring justice. We may have to cooperate in that process, but we recognize that justice is God’s job–not ours. Forgiveness means admitting that revenge is not ours to take.
This post has been part four of a five-part series on forgiveness.
- Acknowledge the pain.
- Invite Jesus in to heal.
- Ask God to help us see this situation and this person as he does.
- Relinquish our right to revenge and trust God to deal rightly.
- Pray blessings over the person who has hurt us.
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