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It is human to wish ill on certain people in particular to those who have done wrong to you or someone you love. Our sense of indignation (some call justice) needs very little prodding to reflect these sentiments:
September 1, 1939
I and the public know
What all school children learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
[lines 19-22] – by W.H. Auden
“Docimedes has lost two gloves. He asks that the person who has stolen them should lose his mind and eyes in the temple where she appoints.” – A Roman curse, Bath, England
Yes, we have great power: “The law cannot forgive, for the law has not been wronged, only broken; only persons can be wronged. The law can pardon, but it can only pardon what it has the power to punish.” W.H. Auden, “The Prince’s Dog” (p. 201)
So is vengeance the right way to respond to wrongdoing? There is a sense that we “merit” superiority and that we never have wronged anyone else: “How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?” Shakespeare,”The Merchant of Venice”
Jesus Christ, when instructing His followers how to pray, told them to include: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12, New Living Translation) Christ, when addressing his followers on another occasion: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-48 (English Standard Version)
Certainly, genuine Christian tradition through the centuries has taught and modeled Christ as in this message and life: “Through…prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God. Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us. They certainly will. But not even that can …overcome us, so long as we pray for them…We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot do for themselves.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, participant in the German Resistance movement against Nazism, a founding member of the Confessing Church. Imprisoned, and then executed on April 9, 1945 in Nazi Germany.
Ok, maybe you’re not Christian, and maybe you don’t care. But maybe it’s the only thing to do? It is a wonderful paradox of God: when injured person comes to God praying for his enemy, suddenly finds himself in the throne room together with God and in a sense he has become the person of greater power.
The wrong-doer no longer has real power over the person he has wronged. Retaliation, taking vengeance, has no up side to it. It perpetuates the harm to all people involved, and there are always unintended and unforeseen consequences to taking vengeance. I know what you’re thinking: it’s too much to ask. I agree. Christ’s charge to his followers to pray and to forgive more often than not does require supernatural power–but then, God is in the business of supplying supernatural power, especially in these cases. It will require of you the strength to be humble. But then, as the victim of wrongdoing, wouldn’t you rather have God figure out the justice and future justice of entire mess than to live out the rest of your days in perpetual conflict, unrest and anger? Praying for your enemies is a powerful, character-changing act.
Do you dare? – Charity Johnson