A world of revenge
How many times have you silently exulted in a movie when the villain was vanquished? When your team demolished its rival. When your candidate won the election. Victory is a wonderful thing, indeed.
It’s what the victor does next that reveals values, however. Pay attention. When the hero/team/candidate is on top, has power, rules the roost, what do they do next?
I bookmarked this article in the NYT about ISIS’ horrible march across Iraq in 2014. It tells the story of one Shiite Iraqi soldier who fled with other soldiers rather than attempt to stand and fight as the religious clash between militant Islam and its Sunni and Shiite factions led to massacres of Shiites during ISIS’ attempt to establish a new caliphate.
“The culture of Iraqis does not go for forgiveness. We come from the desert; our culture is for revenge.”1
The best that this world has to offer is “getting back” at the other side.
Revenge is on the mind of Afghanis as well.
We saw the same violence and extermination happening in Afghanistan after Biden’s botched pullout of American forces. Who could forget images of Afghanis falling from American planes as they evacuated?
“Soon after the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15, the Islamist movement sought to reassure the international community and its former opponents by saying there would be no reprisals.”2
"None of us had imagined we would be targeted like this. The Taliban said they will not punish anyone who had worked with the previous regime but they did the exact opposite in our case."3
The systematic elimination of those who formerly opposed the Taliban is chilling to continue to behold. Even more discomforting is the realization that the U.S. enabled such atrocity to occur.
A recipe for revenge
As the Russia-Ukraine war continues after Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, many are asking what will take place after resolutions and agreements are reached. “Since then, Ukrainian officials have said the bloody war has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and troops, and has displaced more than 8 million people from their homes.”4
"Putin is a very angry man these days, always thinking about revenge and all sorts of things."5
It’s not just Putin contemplating and exercising revenge. Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy has “vowed to punish ‘every bastard’ who committed atrocities during the invasion of Ukraine amid outrage at Russia’s shelling of civilians as they tried to flee a town on the outskirts of Kyiv, killing a young family.”6
“They were just trying to get out of town. To escape. The whole family. How many such families have died in Ukraine. We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will punish everyone who committed atrocities in this war… “There will be no quiet place on this earth for you. Except for the grave.”7
Breaking the revenge cycle
These examples can be multiplied on national levels and on personal ones. Revenge is an endless cycle of “get-back-at-you-ism.” Revenge is not to be confused with justice. Justice exacts a fair and punitive response to an unjust injury, offense or even death.
Revenge is motivated by an individual or group and is determined to pay someone back outside of agreed-upon, legal, societal laws and rules. Most of our current political partisanship is motivated by revenge. The riots of summer 2020 were motivated by revenge. Revenge sets up people as gods and ascribes to them the sovereign power to inflict harm or damage as they see fit.
In the Old Testament during the time of the judges, this attitude was perpetuated by the ongoing refrain of “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”8
Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was also a philosopher. He said:
“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”
The revenge cycle is a bit like Nicolas Cage movies. Just when you think you’ve seen the last one, another one comes out.
How do you break the cycle of revenge? It’s harder than you think. You can’t do it logically, though you can provide reasons for why revenge is ultimately self-defeating. Resisting revenge means embracing two counter-cultural and un-human attitudes:
These are are polar opposites of revenge. The inability to embrace both will result in seeking revenge and nursing bitterness.
★ The inability to trust reveals a heart that ultimately believes that there’s no one in charge. That no one will ultimately administer justice. That no one sees. That no one cares. Therefore, we must take matters into our own hands. We cannot trust another. This is the denial of the existence of God. It’s a refusal to believe in His character. Trust that God will exact perfect and appropriate justice.
“Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.’”9
God identifies Himself as a God of compassion and justice:
“The LORD — the LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But he will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.”10
He sees. He knows. He cares. He cares about the innocent, and He furiously cares about the wicked. He will judge.
★ The inability to forgive reveals a heart that refuses to acknowledge one’s own weaknesses, offenses and flaws.
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” ― Anne Lamott
In today’s shrill cancel culture, it seems that the main aim is just to win by humiliating another. To win by destroying someone else. In the recent Depp-Heard trial, we learned all kinds of unsavory information about their relationship and behavior, including that she defecated in his bed in retaliation.
Such atrocious behavior is a bit like what our culture is doing to us all. It’s defecating in our most sacred places. Rather than practicing humility, compassion and forgiveness, we all seem to quick to blame, cancel, and lambast.
What’s the “next thing?”
As I proofread and hit “publish” this evening, I am sobered by the reality that this morning the Supreme Court nullified Roe vs. Wade.11 Buckle up, and let the revenge cycle begin. A domestic terrorist group calling themselves Jane’s Revenge has vowed just that.12
When you name your organization in such a way, you show that you’re not serious about dialogue or being helpful… or forgiving. But it’s not just a renegade group of thugs… Our entire culture refuses to look within. We all are messed up. We all need help.
We all need… a Savior.
As followers of Christ who choose life, we must also choose the way of the Life Giver. It was a way that is so counter to our prevailing hyper-emotionalistic world that we have a difficult time seeing it’s the best way. It’s the way of trust, the way of forgiveness.
It’s the way forward.
This is the way.
“Your eyes will see your Teacher, and whenever you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear this command behind you: “This is the way. Walk in it.”13
The Taliban vowed no revenge. One Afghan family tells a different story. (Reuters, September 28, 2021)
Putin 'Angry Man' Focused on 'Revenge' After Ukraine War Failures: Gardiner (Newsweek, May 28, 2022)
Ukraine’s Zelenskiy vows revenge on Russian forces after fleeing family killed in shelling of Irpin (The Guardian, March 6, 2022)
“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him.” (Judges 17:6 CSB) Notice that it was the lack of a unifying authority that led to the complete erosion of external laws.
Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in landmark abortion decision - Fox News, 6/24/2022