Sweeter than Revenge

nail-in-handWhat’s wrong with wanting revenge? Isn’t revenge merely the fair response to injustice, a way of affirming the value of the person who has been wronged? When our dignity has been violated, we need something to restore it. Without revenge, we are left with the message that we are worth no more than the way we were treated.

And yet Jesus calls us to forgive.

For the longest time I have been struggling with how to hold these two together. Asking a woman who has been beaten or raped to forgive her abusers seems to me to add insult to injury. Requiring a man who has been maligned or berated to turn the other cheek seems to me to reinforce his degradation. What happened to affirming the dignity of the image of God within each person? Isn’t it right to defend that image?

And yet forgiveness means giving up our right to revenge.

Heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

I suppose my hang-up over the common Christian assumptions about forgiveness is that they seem to deny the value of the person who has been hurt, to overlook the need for their worth to be reaffirmed. Having personally struggled with the profound shame that follows abuse, I can’t accept the trite answer that forgiveness is simply choosing to forget about the hurt. If only it were that simple! But heartfelt forgiveness is no more a matter of one-time, personal choice than emotional healing is.

So I am left with the question: How can a damaged person forgive while still holding on to any scrap of self-worth? In my heart I’ve known that revenge isn’t really the best way to re-establish damaged dignity, but at least it is a start. Revenge solves the problem with corresponding negativity. But is there a positive way to receive the affirmation we so desperately need?

And once again, Jesus leads the way in showing how it is done.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalm 22:6-10

Talk about a degraded image of God! At the end of a lifetime of criticism and questioning. After an eternal night of being tortured and molested. Pulverized. Victimized. Ridiculed. Rejected. In the midst of agony and mockery on the cross, He neither sought His abusers degradation nor gave in to His own.

Jesus could forgive those who tore Him down because His Father kept building Him up. Descending doves. Assuring affirmations. Repeatedly the Father had reminded Him of how valued He was, firmly establishing Him in His status as God’s beloved Son.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Colossians 3:12-13
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us…
Ephesians 4:32-5:1

And these are the same affirmations embedded in the multiple texts that call us to forgive. Dearly beloved children. Cherished people. God is not calling us to let go of our worth; He is leading us to assert our position as His kids by responding to others the way He responds to us. Forgiveness based on our relationship with Him is not further degradation; it is proof of our glorification.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:19-21

And lest we worry that in embracing this higher call our abusers will somehow get the message that the way they treated us was OK, our Father reassures us. He will make sure we are avenged. In the meantime, we get the pleasure of exercising our freedom from being defined by how others treat us. We get to repay their evil with good, their cruelty with kindness, because we know who we are to God.

Forgiveness based on our relationship with God is not further degradation;
it is proof of our glorification.

Healing from emotional wounds takes time. Forgiveness does not come easy nor is it achieved overnight. But I have found that as I grow in my security as a treasured child of God, my need for revenge is steadily dropping away. Instead I find myself increasingly consumed by a greater desire: to receive and reflect my Father’s love.

Sweet revenge. Sweeter love.

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15 thoughts on “Sweeter than Revenge”

  1. Revenge is hurt lashing out. Forgiving can take a lifetime. For me, when I find I can’t forgive, I console myself knowing that the intention to do so is there. I would know peace if I could forgive but anger, pain, abandonment all deserve their place too, acknowledgement and then with time healing and forgiveness. I guess that is why it is said that forgiveness is a ‘Grace’.

    1. Absolutely, Collette. Forgiveness is a grace that I constantly pray for more of. And I think you’re right. Like with faith, sometimes the most forgiveness we can muster is the desire or intent to do so. Perhaps we could borrow the Jewish father’s prayer: Lord, I forgive; help my unforgiveness.

    1. And thank you, Scarlett, for providing a safe haven for those who have received the worst kind of wounding: the unexpected betrayal of spiritual abuse. May our Lord use you to comfort His wounded lambs, and may He purify His Body that He may no longer be so misrepresented to them.

  2. For those of us who were hurt in such a way that we questioned our position with God through Jesus, grasping and growing in the truth of His love for us is absolutely essential in our healing. For myself, forgiveness is often dependent on how far I am in the process of healing which is dependent on remembering, believing, and knowing that I am a beautiful, wonderful, precious child of God and that He will never leave me nor forsake me. When my confidence in our relationship wanes, my forgiveness wanes. Perhaps the best help we can offer one another is to remind, encourage, and BE the manifest presence of God to those who are struggling to realize His great love for them.

    1. I couldn’t agree with you more, Ellen. That is why I wince when I hear people preaching instant forgiveness and painting the lack thereof as sin. Talk about condemnation on top of wounding! Forgiveness is a process only made possible by our security in Christ. You make a powerful point with your statement: When my confidence in our relationship wanes, my forgiveness wanes. And you’re right. If we really want to facilitate forgiveness, we should focus on building each other up in love so that forgiveness will be possible. Thank you for adding your valuable insight.

  3. Beautifully written, Tiffany. So true, all you wrote on here. Isn’t it good that we have an understanding and loving Daddy in Heaven who goes with us through all kinds of emotions in our struggles? While revenge is a normal human feeling, mostly combined with anger, wrath, and all negativity, we may always know that we are loved – just the way we are. Everything else that comes later, that is, forgiving our enemies and finally loving them as Jesus loved everyone on the cross is indeed a divine blessing, a gift from above, nothing we could ever achieve on our own.

    If you’re interested, you might check out an article in which I dealt with that and other severe emotional problems. See https://enteringthepromisedland.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/the-burden-of-false-guilt/.

    Much love to you ❤ on that difficult way,
    Susanne from Bavaria

    BTW, I dropped in from Scarlett's blog and I love what I found on here. 🙂

    1. I’m glad you did, Susanne. I thoroughly enjoyed your article and resonate with much of what you say. And I rejoice along with you that our Father neither lowers His standards for us nor leaves us to get there on our own. He knows our frame and He patiently walks with us through the messy process of healing and forgiveness.

  4. I suppose my hang-up over the common Christian assumptions about forgiveness is that they seem to deny the value of the person who has been hurt, to overlook the need for their worth to be reaffirmed.

    Yep. If you want to see the mockery Christians have made of forgiveness, take a sledge hammer to a head pastor’s car as he and the laity emerge from the church’s front doors. Ask for forgiveness, and then attempt to just walk away. A friend of mine likes to talk about breaking of arms, but sadly I think the mammon-related version is more effective.

    I recently heard a great sermon on forgiveness, reconciliation, and restitution; the pastor made two points I want to communicate here: (1) zero to three of the above can be done; (2) the OT law was but a shadow of what was to come. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, to bring healing to the sick, to set the oppressed free from bondage. He didn’t cause any of that damage, but he took part in fixing it. The question for us Christians is whether we are going to take responsibility for fixing not only the damage we cause with our sins, but other damage, as well. Will we follow Jesus?

    I am tempted to think of the church as a bank into which we deposit the grace we show others, from which we withdraw grace we need ourselves. This isn’t to say that all grace doesn’t come from God; instead it is meant to do some sort of tracking of real, true hurt which is done to real people. If someone is unrepentant in the hurt he/she did to you, you can draw on the church bank. Frequently, this will be in the form of members of the body of Christ ministering to you, doing what they can to repair what was broken, and just being with you to the extent that no such repair is possible. Should the victimizer later repent, he/she can repay the church bank. Jesus did not stop Nicodemus when he announced his repayment plan.

    The above is dangerous because it threatens to head towards a works-based economy, but I’ve long since acknowledged that the further one dives into truth, the easier it is to err by veering a bit to one side or a bit to the other. See search results in the OT for turn right left. 🙂 We are tempted to say that “Jesus paid it all” and he did in one sense, but he also asked us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. What can that mean, but us meaningfully engaging in the same ministry as his? Ultimately, one gets to know someone by experiencing what he/she has experienced.

    1. Excellent points, Luke. I really like your idea of the “grace bank” within the community of saints. I’ve been challenged lately to get past my individualistic views of what it means to walk with God. So much of what Jesus taught and the epistles then apply is about what it means to live as the people of God. We aren’t a bunch of little brides (a humorous point I made with my Ugandan students: Jesus isn’t a polygamist)–we are part of The Bride, called to reflect His image to each other and collectively to the watching world. Your idea of God’s grace being “paid forward” and received back from a tangible, living community is spot on. Of course we need visible manifestations and tangible experiences of God’s love: that is what Jesus came to do and what He calls His followers to carry out. His Spirit is unseen, but His fruit through us should be very seen!(John 3:8) May He use you as a healing agent to those around in need of love, and may He supply all of your needs (including the emotional ones) through the body of His Son, the Church.

      1. Hehe, I’m glad you didn’t immediately see something absolutely heretical in my “grace bank” idea. Your comment on Jesus not being a polygamist is awesome; I’m going to have to steal that for future use. I’ll add to it: if we say we love Jesus and don’t love our brothers and sisters—all of them—then we’re dangerously close to saying we love Jesus’ detached head and nothing else. There are two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes where Data’s (the android) head gets detached which my wife and I had recently watched; this made the “detached head” image quite lucid.

        May he use both of us as healing agents! Just reading the comments of your blog entries makes it clear that technology sometimes can be used for good things instead of merely distractions. I myself have had some wonderful validations that I really can help others heal. May we be reminded of the blessing that is Mk 4:24–25!

  5. Some pain never goes away, but the Lord Jesus gave us the solution for dealing with it and overcoming it. If He could do what He did after what they did to Him, we can do likewise. Hatred and rejection are overcome by His pure love and acceptance. That’s how strong His love is. Thanks for the excellent post, Tiffany.

    1. And that’s why the solution is not more condemnation (i.e. “You should forgive!”), but more love (i.e. “I love you unconditionally. Hopefully someday you will be able to receive that enough to extend it to those who hurt you.”)

  6. This post is so timely in my current healing journey Tiffany. Just last night I said to my husband….offering forgiveness and letting go of bitterness feels like allowing my abusers to get away with destruction all over again. It is so hard to heal independently from abusers acknowledging that they did anything wrong…. Actually it’s crazy making because the immense pain I have felt on this journey seems unfounded and without witness if the people involved refuse to see. Yes, Jesus was there and saw….even though I did not know him or see him at the time. Really really hard stuff to wrestle through. I agree with my whole heart that forgiveness is a journey that comes as the healer binds up wounds….although the scars are left behind, we can fully trust that God has our back and gives us our worth even though it was stolen by abuse.

    1. Those are some of the questions that we do have to work through with the Lord, though: Where were You when that was happening to me? Why didn’t You stop it? Who am I to You, anyway? I remember crying and running and asking God those questions again and again. And yet it was through that process that He spoke to me, establishing my identity as His on a level deeper and sweeter than I had ever experienced before. Growing confident in His love for me lay the foundation for my healing, and is finally working itself out in my ability to forgive. Strangely enough, the people I have the hardest time forgiving are those who were close to me but refused to acknowledge what had truly happened. May you continue to hear God’s reassuring voice, reminding you that He saw, He knows, He loves, and He will never turn His back on you, no matter how messy you are.

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