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Do not say, “I will recompense evil”

Vengeance is one of the most powerful human motivations. Whether it takes the form of a prank or a blow to the body or a knife in the back, seeking revenge for slights both real and perceived is an age-old process.

Why must we seek revenge when we feel wronged? It is an entirely a matter of pride and only rarely a question of self-defense. Indeed, defending oneself in a threatened moment is usually acceptable, even under the laws of state and country. One may defend himself when in the clutches of a mugger by stamping on his foot and punching him the stomach, but to wait a few days and then track him down to do the same would be to heap crime upon crime. Vengeance and self-defense are different, if only in timing and passion.

Actually, the distinction is not always even that clear. There are New Testament doctrines that seem to indicate forgoing even legal redress in certain conditions. Paul asked the Corinthian brethren why they were bothering to sue one another: “Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated” (1 Corinthians 6:7)?

Sometimes, the disciple of Christ will abandon even his liberties in the name of unity, but he should ever be ready to abandon the thought of exacting revenge on an enemy, real or perceived. Wisdom calls: “Do not say, ‘I will recompense evil’; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you” (Proverbs 20:22).

Many will ponder the events of the Old Testament and imagine an era of unrestrained vengeance, but even then, personal revenge was proscribed. “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; Their foot shall slip in due time; For the day of their calamity is at hand, And the things to come hasten upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35). God urged Israel to avenge wrongs only when instructed and not for personal satisfaction. When David thought to slaughter the house of Nabal, it was Abigail who stayed his hand with a solemn warning that he was unjustified. The future king was grateful: “And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand” (1 Samuel 25:33).

The Christian doctrine of turning the other cheek is likewise a law against seeking personal vengeance (see Matthew 5:38-42). As delicious as it is, vengeance does not belong to man. “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).