This week guest lecturer Thane Rosenbaum from Fordham University will be speaking on the theme:”Vengeance: An American Obsession” at the University of Texas at El Paso. As a pastor and devoted follower of Jesus this title caught my attention.
In pursuit of his take on the issue of vengeance and revenge, I came across the following quote from his article in the Huffington Post entitled: “True Grit and the Truth about Revenge.” Rosenbaum wrote:
The deeper truth of True Grit is that it, too, serves as a quick fix for our addiction to vengeance. But is revenge an unhealthy addiction or a guilty pleasure? We have all been warned, repeatedly, that revenge is barbaric, a holdover from primitive times. And yet vengeance properly taken feels so righteous and true, especially when depicted in a feature film. The audience roots for the avenger all the while knowing that individuals are not permitted to take justice into their own hands. Is this just an example of people acting out their fantasies of bloodlust while sitting in a darkened theater, like a peep show featuring an “eye for an eye”
I must admit that I am a “sucker” for a good revenge movie or television show plot. This year I have had almost an obsession with past episodes of the hit television show “24” starring Keifer Sutherland as the American hero Jack Bauer who saves the world from terrorists in a singe day! In fact this afternoon my wife commented that we needed to send Jack Bauer into Juarez for 24 hours and everything would change! (I must admit I thought it made good sense from a human perspective).
At the core most of us believe in right and wrong as well as black and white realities. However, life does not always fall neatly into our categories. Life in the real world is complicated and messy. Justice is slow, and often feels very unjust–especially to victims.
As a resident of El Paso who gazes across the border to the dusty and often bloody streets of Juarez, I can see vividly what revenge looks like. In fact, just a couple days ago there were 53 murders in 72 hours. An “eye for and eye” gets very bloody very quickly when evil gets the upper hand.
So what would Jesus do? Was He serious when he talked about” turning the other cheek” and “praying for your enemies?” Was Jesus out of touch with reality or in touch with a whole new way of seeing the world? I would argue Jesus was more in touch with reality than any man who has ever stepped foot on planet earth.
As a follower of Jesus vengeance is not a non-existent reality–it is just a reality out of my control. Paul took Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome:
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. (Romans 12:19 NIV)
When justice is slow and apparently missing in this evil world, Paul counsels us to trust in the righteous judge of creation. God promises to avenge in His time and in His way.
Our creator knows us very well. He knows that when we set the course of our lives on revenge that we often become the very evil we seek to stamp out. Anger and bitterness mars the image of God upon us. We cease being the “light” of the world, and only increase the darkness and despair by hateful actions.
Recently I heard an interview of Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google executive that played a key role in the transformation of the face of Egypt. During the revolution he spent eleven days in prison at the hands of the secret police. In the course of the interview he said that when he was released he kissed on the cheek each of his captors, and that he forgave them. He knew in his heart that they were only doing what they thought was right and he had no hatred for them. I was stunned by his example. In a polarized world of hatred his example was a beam of light and hope.
Revenge may make for a great movie plot but it is a lousy way to live. I would encourage you to follow the example of Jesus rather than Rooster Cogburn when you think about how to make our world a better place for our children.