Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thoughts on Vengeance

I've been learning about vengeance in the Psalms through a course[1] I'm taking.  As I study, I find that I keep wanting to distance myself from the Psalmist and claim some sort of moral piety: I would never wish vengeance like that upon anyone!  And yet... if I am honest I have to concede that that level of emotion lies in each of us.  Beneath our politeness and the rules that dictate social interaction lies a bubbling turmoil in our spirits that cries out for justice, vindication and punishment for those who have harmed or hindered us.

I try to keep that part of me hidden; who wants to acknowledge such ugly emotions?  Yet it is only in bringing those emotions out into the open - only in expressing them and owning them - can we move past them (or rather, through them[2]) to some sort of equilibrium.  And perhaps the cry for vengeance masks our true emotions:  hurt, helplessness, rejection, abandonment, fear, or loss of control. These are perhaps the root causes of what pushes us to rage and lash out at others and even (dare we admit it?) to God Himself.

What is most disturbing about this idea of vengeance is that recompense and justice for myself mean punishment for another.  I am in a battle jockeying for positions of blessing and favour.  Am I really that self-centred? Positions of favour are not cheap.  Not only do they come at great cost to God (as exemplified in the Incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus); they also come at great cost to my fellow man. My good fortune is another man's judgment. Vengeance is the "dark side of compassion."[3]

I begin to realise how flippantly I have accepted God's mercy and compassion and even - on occasion - laid claim to it!  As a matter of ethics I can no longer do this.  I must rather pause and consider the seriousness of this dilemma:  in requesting compassion or mercy I am indirectly requesting judgment.  In requesting vengeance I am indirectly requesting to be elevated to a position of favour over another.  This is a sobering thought indeed.

1.  For other courses offered or to find out about Coram Deo, a pastoral counseling centre, visit their website.
2. As suggested by Walter Brueggemann in his book, Praying the Psalms.
3. ibid.

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