Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me; I will pay the man back for what he has done.” (Proverbs 24:29)
It’s not unreasonable to expect your enemy – and I mean your real foe, not a friendly rivalry you have with a colleague or friend – to be someone who is out for your downfall, especially if it’s to their own advance. That level of antagonism and enmity is expected in that level of relationship.
In the world of sport there is the famous quote of a number of sportspeople that in the best interests of self-preservation that it’s important to get your retaliation in first. It’s part of the competitive nature of humanity to be wary of the opposition and exploit every chance there is to gain an advantage on them. When you add to that the thinking that God really got all sentimental and soft in the New Testament to make up for the fact that He appears rather bloodthirsty in the Old Testament, then its reasonable to assume that he’d be right behind the quest to be vengeful in the light of grievances.
Of course that thinking of God getting softer as the Bible unfolds is a load of nonsense, He is as compassionate and merciful in the Old as He is in the New, indeed the manifestation of His Son in the New Testament is by no means the end of devastation and violent actions. The end time scenario pictured by Jesus is hardly one for the faint-hearted or the pacifist.
Yet what this Proverb outlines as a consistent theme in the wisdom of God is that we are to leave vengeance to God. In as much as we think we’re capable of administering true justice on those who do us wrong, especially with the perceived invitation for the eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth approach, the fact is such is our inability in ourselves to do that right, we need a legislative and judicial framework to sort that out for us. That is to say if we have been wronged in anyway, we commit the process in the hands of the authorities and peers to sort it.
Greater still, however, is the ethos of the Proverb which is to refrain from a vengeful attitude when it comes to those who have wronged us. Such should be the compassionate streak running through those who are dedicated walkers in the way of wisdom, that we not just refrain from that mind that says I’ll get that blighter for what he’s done. There is an active responsibility on the part of those who walk in wisdom to still show love and mercy on those who despise us, even as Jesus exercised the same qualities to the point of the cross.
Yet how easy it is to see someone’s downfall and pompously think that it serves them right and they had it coming to them. Especially if it’s someone we’ve not liked for whatever reason, it is almost as natural as night following day to take some pleasure in any mishap that might befall. It’s understandable, but it’s not right. The theme that echoes around the Bible is that in case we think we’re so good to not fall into those kind of faults then we best be careful because there’s a fall just round the corner to teach us just how flawed and messed up we can really be. If that’s the reality for us and we know it only too well, there is no platform for the snide, antagonistic mind-set. Indeed it should be easier to be merciful knowing that we are in constant need of such mercy, and allowing that compassion to flow even to those who are naturally opposed to us.
Jesus our great Example remains the One who has shown the way in this area and where others wanted to get Him to be something less than merciful towards those perceived to be enemies, Jesus took a radically different approach and showed the way to other true followers today. To His enemies, Jesus’ message was based on forgiveness and mercy in the hope that they would not fall into the hands of the ultimate Judge. Such a concern for those who hated Him, showed a rightful fear for the Judge of all, because should His verdict be negative, you wouldn’t want that for your worst enemy.
For His Name’s Sake