I’ve noticed a vengeance trend in movies and television of late. It is a tempting theme that appeals to our sense of justice and moral superiority. Someone commits a wrong-doing like adultery, war, enslavement or murder and the victim cleverly gets revenge. Hollywood director Quentin Tarantino has particularly found this to be a lucrative box-office theme with movies like Inglorious Bastards and Django. The former has the Jews exacting revenge on Hitler while the latter has African American slaves taking over a plantation in the southern USA, rewriting history along the way.
On television, the show Revenge offers up this plot every week, satisfying a kind of thirst for blood that is part of human nature. Recently, I watched The Other Woman, starring Cameron Diaz that carries the trend to a ridiculous level. It is a tale of a flaky wife who finds out her hotshot executive husband is having an affair. Instead of confronting him, she meets the other woman and implausibly, they become friends who plot his downfall. Since the rotten S.O.B. lied to the other woman by pretending he was single, this gives them the shaky common ground they need to become allies.
To add to the demonizing of this slippery, selfish husband, he moves on to lure a third innocent woman. The two women also draw her into their plotting scheme to exact revenge. They do so by discovering he is cheating in his business. Of course, the other woman is a lawyer who knows exactly how to unravel his offshore investments.
The pay-off for the audience arrives when the three women present him with a surprise confrontation in a boardroom, along with his boss. The wife announces she wants a divorce and then reveals his now penniless state of affairs, having found and returned the stolen money to the boss, who fires him on the spot. To put the icing on the vengeance cake, the movie ends by giving the two other women a happy ending with other men, while the boss makes the betrayed (and ditzy) wife CEO of several companies.
The world is full of injustices and when these are revealed in all their inglorious truth, we the people love to wallow in moral superiority. I cannot count how many divorced men and women I have met who feel this way about their ex-spouse. Each has been victimized by a selfish, mean-hearted person who did it to them. They take a good measure of satisfaction if and when their ex’s new love and new life crashes and burns.
For those of us in pursuit of inner peace and a desire to live out the “love-your-neighbour-as-yourself” teachings of Jesus, vengeance is a desire we need to conquer. This inner victory begins when we see vengeance for what it is – a desire to play God ourselves. We want to be judge and jury. Indeed, the news media is full of tales of how the families of victims can finally rest in peace once the criminal has been duly convicted and sentenced. Society sees this as a duty.
Jesus, of course, presents a radically different take on this, one that is deeply offensive to the ego. He wants us to forgive seventy times seven, turn the other cheek and give to the thief not only the tunic they took but offer up an additional cloak. Even the most committed Christian struggles to walk this walk. I certainly do.
You have to ask yourself, what is God’s purpose for us in exacting such a high level of forgiveness? I see it in simple terms. He wants us to be entirely dependent on him. Vengeance gives us power. With human power, we don’t need him. We can rectify matters ourselves. With forgiveness, we are powerless. When we admit our powerlessness and dependency, whatever happens next comes not from us, but from him. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19) This is why we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are the author of our own level of forgiveness.
Implicit in this is the greatest struggle we face as spiritually-grounded followers of Jesus – to trust in God’s timing. We want justice and we want it now. Our heart grieves and rages and weeps. My experience, however, is that when we fully grieve the loss of something brutally taken from us, we are set free. Other people no longer have power over us. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) Jesus’ idea of personal safety is very different from ours. He wants us to be vulnerable.
When we forgive the violator, we set ourselves free. We get to this peace-filled inner state by suffering. We must feel and experience the loss, raging and mourning over it. We must not numb ourselves with drugs, sex, work or other escapes. It is not by coincidence that there is a Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is in our weakness and helplessness that we find the presence of God. He said to the oft-suffering apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)
This is a difficult spiritual mountain to climb. Yet, in my experiences, once climbed, you wonder what took you so long to let it go. You regret that you burdened yourself so unnecessarily with unchangeable events. The past is history and the future a mystery. His peace and joy are found in the present where God, the great I AM, resides. We get there by becoming neutral about the outcomes we want. This is how we grow strong in weakness.
Now is the only time to have peace, love, joy and forbearance. These are the fruits of the Spirit for which Jesus said, ““The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44). The cost of Jesus’ treasure is all that you hold near and dear to you. The reward is his love, and the faith that comes with discovering that when you are weak, you are strong in him, sufficient with what you have and needing nothing more.
In his peace,
p.s. I dedicate this posting in prayer to the healing of Debbie Crickmore.