Continue the journey of the process of forgiving with me. We looked at the first step in rediscovering the humanity of the person who has wronged us in the last post. Today, we will target the second step in the process of forgiving, giving up our right for vengeance.
Let me dispel any scary ideas about vengeance. Vengeance is not just about the guy shooting up at his last place of employment or the ex-girl friend posting nasty comments on Facebook about her ex-boyfriend. Vengeance is not just in the extreme actions people take but also in the subtle actions like not speaking to your neighbor for a couple of weeks after she hurt you with a criticism that seemed to you uncalled for or about the husband giving his wife the cold shoulder because she forgot to pick up his dry cleaning again.
Where Vengeance Begins
Vengeance starts as a thought. Did vengeful thoughts go through my head with the episode of injustice done to me in August with my old preschool job? Absolutely. Just because we don’t take out any revenge in action, doesn’t mean that thinking about revenge is any less sinful. The truth is our sinful nature will automatically from our subconscious bring up these kinds of thoughts, It is what we do with those thoughts that matters. When we let ourselves entertain this kind of thinking, we will find ourselves immersed in bitterness.
Do we even have the right to get even? We are not God. And yet, we have this insane hold of believing it is our right to get even. Part of the process of forgiving, is giving up this right for vengeance. But this doesn’t mean we give up our need for justice. God is our justice. The words from Isaiah 30:18 tell us what God wants from us, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Giving up our right for vengeance means we are opening ourselves up to trusting the Lord will make all things right. God is just and it will be done in his timing.
Vengeance vs. Justice
Vengeance is our own pleasure in seeing someone who hurt us get it back and then some. Justice is moral accounting. It is secured when someone pays a fair penalty for wronging another even if the wronged person takes no pleasure in it.
Human forgiveness doesn’t take away the claims for justice whether it be human justice or divine justice. Knowing this fine line between vengeance and justice is crucial in making it through this stage. Most getting even happens only in our heads, however as Lewis B. Smedes says in his book The Art of Forgiving, revenge fantasies “become a catheter dripping a spiritual poison into our systems.” I surrendered my right for vengeance and focused on trusting in my God of justice. Peace filled me and I was able to move onto the next stage.
We have rediscovered the humanity in the person; separating the sinful behavior from the person. Then, we give up the right to get even. We cast out those vengeful thoughts that pop into our minds and affirm the truth of God. Our final piece in the process of forgiving may be the most challenging but we will take up that next time.
Until then, may you see the humanity in each person not through the lens of your hurt but through the lens of God’s truth and may you give up that right to get even and trust that the Lord is our justice.