It’s not uncommon in our world to hear about revenge or getting even. Many cultures have different mantras such as “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. “Don’t get mad, get even”. Or even acknowledging “What goes around comes around” or “They’ll get theirs” referring to the popular concept of “Karma”. Someone’s gonna pay for doing me wrong…and human nature’s damaged psyche fuels it all.
Someone has hurt us deeply. Maybe they lied to us, took advantage of us, and we feel justified that we were wronged and now they’re gonna pay. Or maybe they exposed us, and we want revenge just to have the last word and save face.
Sitting around plotting how we’re going to feel better when this person gets what they deserve seems innocent enough, right? We might even tell ourself “I’d never really do it” or there’s no harm in thinking about it.
Ah but what a slippery slope. I bet some people who ended up on the five o’clock news by trying to get even probably wish they hadn’t, and many of them may get to spend a really long time thinking about their regret from their prison jail cell.
According to a 2008 study, people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status. They don’t want to lose face.
Well no wonder this is a “thing” in our culture!
Unfortunately although people are generally seeking catharsis via revenge, the end result is that they prolong the pain for themselves. Paradoxically, most people think they will feel better after seeking revenge, when in fact afterwards the reality is we think about it. A lot.
The real tragedy: rather than provide closure it perpetuates the wound and leaves us with regret.
Martin Luther King Jr., stated, “The old law of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind”. I just LOVE that!
The recent release of Taylor Swift’s “Look what you made me do” really got me thinking about revenge. In the song, Swift seems to suggest whatever she did was spurred by the behavior of another. When I think about authenticity and accountability, it’s hard for me to condone this kind of attitude towards revenge.
As a survivor of Interpersonal violence (IPV), I have actually heard those exact words uttered to justify actions that would make your blood run cold. “Look what YOU made ME do”! It’s the projection of blame onto the victim. “I wouldn’t have had to do this if you would just have behaved like you were supposed to”. The irony of it all, I never chose revenge for this injustice. I was just happy I got out with my life.
Or what about this? Recently I was talking to my son about a so-called friend that did him wrong. He was really wrestling with the injustice done to him and I’m so glad he trusts me enough to tell me he was thinking about coming up with a way to humiliate this boy to get back at him. As we processed his feelings, we talked about the old adage “two wrongs don’t make a right” and what he would be accountable for should he let his anger spur revenge. It was then that I reminded him of a verse I always keep in my back pocket for times like these in Proverbs 20:22:
To my surprise, he looked at me and said, “Wow! Mom that’s so much better than revenge!” I had to smile and wish I’d had the same conversation at age 11.
Then there’s this. If I’m out there representing as a Christian, and someone sees me plotting revenge or wishing it on someone, I’m sending the wrong message. If I want to be real here, if I’m plotting revenge, I’m living in the Flesh and not the Spirit. As hard as it is to embrace when someone has hurt you, it’s possible that person has never had anyone model appropriate behavior that involves self-control. In another quote I love from Martin Luther King Jr., “Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for choices people make. But consequences are defined by boundaries. If someone crosses your boundaries don’t retaliate, clarify, if they can’t respect you, enforce those boundaries! If someone wants to get revenge on you for enforcing your boundaries, that’s probably someone who needs some time alone to think, and toxic people can be distanced for our protection. Thankfully we have a justice system as well, because perpetrators of violence deserve real consequences.
On the flip side, no one can make you “do” anything that you don’t want to do. God did give us free will, but the intention wasn’t to go out and be a vengeful person.
Prior to committing my life to Christ I wasn’t very accountable for my actions. I regret the hurt I caused others when I wasn’t walking in the Light. I liken the transformation to me being like a kid lying about snitching a cookie from the kitchen to an adult with discipline and self control. An individual with the fruit of the spirit works to exhibit those rather than seek revenge.
Song credit: Look what you made me do – Taylor Swift