Walking the Way–Vengeance or Justice?
Growing up, Westerns were one of my favorite genres for movies. I especially liked how the lines between good and evil were drawn, with the hero riding in to set things right. Clint Eastwood’s movies, like Pale Rider, were great examples.
I grew up in the John Wayne and Jesus era. If there is an issue, take care of it. If there is some wrong to be made right, step up and do it. If violence is required, so be it. After all, John Wayne and Jesus went together like cookies and milk.
Today, the Marvel movies follow a similar plot – if there is some form of injustice, a hero like Captain Marvel or Captain America steps in to set things right and save the day.
However, it’s important to note that this depiction of justice is vengeance. And while payback may be satisfying at the moment, it can perpetuate a cycle of violence and hatred that ultimately does more harm than good.
The critical distinction between vengeance and justice is that vengeance seeks to harm the wrongdoer, while justice seeks to right the wrongs done to the oppressed. Vengeance perpetuates a cycle of hatred, whereas justice aims to break that cycle through reconciliation, restoration, and the restoration of harmony.
Vengeance is often reactive and fails to consider the nuances and complexities of a situation. It also assumes that the lines between good and evil are always transparent, which is rarely the case. Rushing in to set things right can sometimes do more damage than good. Vengeance continues the cycle of hatred and injustice.
The way the world deals with violence and injustice is most often in the form of vengeance. We do this as nations as well. If something wrong is to be dealt with or an issue to be resolved, we quickly move from diplomacy to the shock and awe approach.
I do not have to remind you that that is not the way of Christ. Jesus taught a very different way of dealing with vengeance and violence. He taught us the way of peace, love, and forgiveness. He taught us that we were to love our neighbors and our enemies.
This lesson is essential for all of us, especially now. On the global front, we have the events unfolding in the Middle East. There is no question that what Hamas extremists did was brutal, unjust, and unthinkable. Yet retaliating in a way that wounds and kills innocent people is not justice.
The real challenge for Christians today is to take Jesus seriously enough to do the hard work of justice. Are we willing to work for peace? Do we want the world to change? To follow any system, culture, or country that retaliates with vengeance calls Christians’s loyalty to Christ into question.
Which way will we follow? We are at a crossroads in history. There is a better way than vengeance, violence, and war. Will we promote justice or revenge?
Ultimately, we must learn to move beyond vengeance and seek restorative justice, which requires patience, compassion, and a willingness to engage in difficult conversations. This commitment to justice is what the world needs right now from people of faith.
Perhaps we would do well to remember Paul’s challenge to the Christians in Rome:
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 NRSV)