Proverbs 20:22 NRSV
Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
wait for the Lord, and He will help you.
Have you ever been misunderstood? Of course. We all have. We have done something or said something and our intentions just didn’t communicate well. Beyond that, have you ever made a mistake, one that ended up costing or hurting someone else? Again, of course! We all have made those mistakes, the actions or choices we regret and wish that we could have changed.
Unfortunately, we often act without enough information, without wisdom, without simply waiting to see what the future might hold. And those actions affect people around us. There are things that I’ve done throughout my life that, while forgiven, still gnaw at me like a sore. They are actions that hurt other people, often people I love and respect. And it would be wonderful if life were like a video game and we could “redo” what has been done. But we can’t. We have to live with the knowledge that something we did or said hurt someone else and that hurt can’t be mitigated.
Two years ago a very close (and elder) friend made a decision that placed me in a position of extreme jeopardy with the court system. For several months, I thought that I might end up being sued for something that wasn’t my fault. To be honest, I was hurt and confused as to why this person would do what he did. I wrote several times with no response. His hearing is such that he doesn’t understand phone conversations and he lived too far away for me to go face to face. So I lived in my hurt and confusion without resolution. Until this Christmas. I learned, through another friend, that this man has gone through a severe dementia and is just now coming out of it, that the decision he made was in desperation. Knowing him as I do, I know that he would be devastated if he knew the pain he had caused me. Hurt caused by a decision but certainly not hurt planned.
The Lord commands us to wait for His help, His vindication. Early on, in Leviticus, the Lord began establishing the idea of forgiveness and love replacing vengeance: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (19:18 NRSV). In fact, Paul tells us that when we seek vengeance, rather than trusting the Lord, we are walking in sin:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21 NRSV
I’m convinced that one of the reasons that we are not to seek vengeance is because we have only part of the picture. While we think we can, we often cannot see the whole, all of the circumstances which compelled that person to harm us. We also fail to trust the Lord to work things out for our good (Romans 8:28). As someone whose brought harm to others (whether intentionally or not), I am grateful for the Lord’s covering which protects me even from myself. His mercy toward us is never ending. Our mercy toward others should be the same.