Thursday, September 15, 2011

Justice vs. Revenge

So I have to be honest here-- as usual I'm ripping off the concept of this post from an older, wiser Christian. In fact, if you scan back through our blog, most of what M and I say is simply our perspective on what someone else has said. We read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, subscribe to a lot of blogs, and as such, we come into contact with a lot of pieces of insight that rock our worlds. Should you think that what you read here comes from our own strokes of spiritual genius, you are wrong. I think we are pretty good at being upfront about the original source of the content. Today's post stems from a message I heard on Sunday at church from our lead pastor, Bill Hybels.

With it being the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, (and also our 25th birthday, but that's not quite as relevant), Bill spent his message reminding us of the tragedy, asking us how it has impacted our lives and faiths, and questioning if we treated those who practice Islam, in the time immediately following the attacks, with the grace and love that Christ calls us to.

In this vein, Bill brought up a point that stopped me in my tracks. He asked if, in our patriotism, we had desired to seek justice for those who committed these crimes, or if instead we desired to seek revenge. 

Here's a quick synopsis from

Justice is the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offense-- it includes righteousness, equitableness, and moral rightness.

Revenge is to exact punishment-- it's an opportunity to retaliate and gain satisfaction.

When I look at these two definitions, sometimes they look similar to me and sometimes they don't. I believe if I were not a Christian, justice would be synonymous with revenge more often than not. Considering the scope of this tragedy in particular, the idea that the punishment should be proportionate to the offense seems obvious—if one man orchestrated the deaths of thousands of our people, aren’t we entitled to kill a few thousands of his? And if this was the case around 9/12/01, I believe that more than a few people would feel satisfied by that turn of events.

But then I remember the Bible. Revenge means “an eye for an eye.” Justice means “turn the other cheek and believe that the Lord, who is just, will provide the punishment.”

When I think about it like this, I am incredibly proud of our military and Seal Team Six for acting with justice, not revenge, in the killing of Bin Laden. By giving him a proper Muslim burial and by not exposing the photographs of his body, our military acted in moral rightness while also honoring what is just—those that kill others may justly be killed. Justice is killing Bin Laden for his crime. Revenge is killing, harming, or discriminating against Muslims simply because they may or may not believe in radical Islam, look like, or live near Bin Laden. I think we have walked a fine line after 9/11 between our desire for justice and revenge, and I do not believe that we, as Christians, always took the high road.

Extrapolating on this concept beyond our current state of international affairs, I think finding the difference between justice and revenge is crucial in order to sustain our relationships, and the key is to try to separate our emotional response from the reality of a situation. In our relationships,

Justice says, “I will allow you to suffer the natural consequences of your choices.”

Revenge says, “I will make you feel bad when you make me feel bad.”

See the difference?

It’s easy to turn to revenge when someone hurts us. We want them to feel hurt too. We want them to pay for their actions. We want to feel better and gain satisfaction out of their misery. For example,

Justice says, “If you are constantly late to dinner, I am going to start without you because I will not partake of lukewarm food simply due to your irresponsibility.”

Revenge says, “If you are late one more time, I am going to wait until you get home and then dump your portion in the trash right in front of you the second you walk in the door.”

The revenge scenario seems extreme and even comical, but how often do we actually do stuff like this in our relationships? All the time! If we’re not careful, it’s incredibly easy to blur the line between boundaries and irrational consequences; between justice and revenge.

For some reason this post has been difficult for me to write. Not in an emotional sense, but rather that my thoughts aren’t flowing neatly as I’d like.

Basically, the idea is that we can ruin our lives by believing that we know the right way to make someone pay for actions that we deem unacceptable. As Christians, it is our job to act with justice (the Lord does not call us to be doormats—He has not given us spirits of timidity!), and to stand on the side of mercy instead of punishment, and grace instead of revenge. We must believe that our God, who is just, is correct when He instructs us not to repay evil for evil.

So, my charge for you today is to watch carefully what stirs in your heart when you feel hurt, betrayed, or angry. Are your actions seeking justice or revenge? Are your desires following after Christ or after the world?

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I loved this. I am going to write a fiction book that explores this whole area of what is the difference between Justice and Revenge. You Pastor has explained well, so thank you for passing on.
    It is an important topic for our culture, I believe. A lot of violent crime and unjust actions are carried out in the total belief that it is Justice all over the world.
    Thank you for posting and thank your Pastor for preaching this.
    God bless