[forthright] Vengeance Is Mine

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From: "Forthright Magazine" <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Sat, 01 Mar 2008 21:45:57 -0300
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Straight to the Cross

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COLUMN: FIELD NOTES

Vengeance is Mine
  by Michael E. Brooks

   "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather
   give place to wrath; for it is written,
   'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the
   Lord" (Romans 12:19).

During a campaign in east Nepal we were to travel from
Birtamode to Dharan, a distance of about 70 km by
highway. However, as we journeyed we were stopped just
short of the town where the highway turns north because
of a strike caused by angry villagers. A truck had
struck and killed a child, and they were protesting for
compensation to the child's family. We were forced to
turn off on unpaved rock roads, which led us up river
beds and through other rural areas, increasing our
travel time by two hours.

Two days later we returned, coming by highway this
time, and as we traveled through the affected area we
saw a burned-out truck -– the vehicle that had hit the
child. It was almost unrecognizable from not only the
fire, but other damage done to it by the angry
villagers. We are told that this is a common practice
in such incidents in Nepal as well as other countries
of the region. Often the driver will be severely beaten
or killed as well. This driver was fortunate to have
escaped.

The anger and grief of the bereaved family and its
relatives and friends is perfectly understandable.
There was no information as to how the accident
happened or what fault may be legitimately attributed
to the driver. Perhaps he was driving recklessly;
perhaps the girl was careless. It hardly seems to
matter in these cases. A tragedy occurred and someone
had to pay. The need for justice and retribution is
overwhelming.

As understandable as that is however, and in spite of
the compassion one feels, an observer must ask, "What
good did it do anyone to burn the truck?" If the driver
had been caught and beaten, would that have benefited
the victim or her family? Is there any point or merit
to vengeance in a case like this?

The motives for vengeance are usually few and simple.
First it is often an instinctive response to deep
emotions -– anger and grief –- usually performed at a
time when one is overwhelmed and out of control.

Second, vengeance is an attempt to provide justice and
retribution on behalf of the victim. The Mosaic Law's
provision of "an eye for an eye" is often quoted as
justification. Evil was done, whether by intention or
accident, therefore there must be a balancing of
accounts. The offender must suffer so as to pay back
the damage done to his victim.

Finally, vengeance is seen as a means of deterrence. If
the offender does not learn his lesson he (or others)
may continue to cause the same kind of harm. Beating or
killing the driver and burning the truck is an attempt
to keep other children safe in the future.

All these reasons have been accepted by many cultures
throughout the history of mankind. Even those nations
whose laws oppose individual vengeance may find
widespread sympathy for the practice. On a considerably
less violent scale, acts of getting even with enemies
are extremely frequent. The principle is the same.

Paul points out in Romans 12 that Jesus has changed the
method of realized justice. No longer are God's people
instructed to be its instruments. Rather they are to
practice patience, mercy and forgiveness to those who
harm them.

Does this mean that the guilty will get away with their
evil, and wrong will go unpunished? Not at all. Rather,
God promises to see that justice is done. We are to
leave it to him, in faith. "Do not be deceived, God is
not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also
reap" (Galatians 6:7).

Justice is both necessary and certain. But humans are
not its principle agents. In Romans 13:1-4, Paul points
out that governments are divinely appointed, in part to
help achieve justice. In doing this they are God's
agents.

However, individual acts of vengeance cannot be excused
on this basis. Individuals are not authorized for this
purpose, but rather have that right specifically denied
them in Scripture.

There are several reasons why this may be. An act of
vengeance may be inappropriate, or may be carried out
against innocent parties, or may be done for the wrong
reasons. Humans make mistakes. God does not. He acts
with perfect precision to balance every scale, to offer
comfort to every victim, and to guarantee eternal
rightness. Let us accept his wisdom and justice in
faith.

----
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