Tag Archives: Vengeance

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal”

“It’s Not Business; It’s Personal” Wayfarer

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”

Genesis 34:30-31 (NIV)

As nomadic strangers in the land, the growing tribe of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were constantly holding the tension between two threats. One was that they would be absorbed into one of the local tribes.

Jacob’s family and nomadic herding operation was still a relatively small clan among much larger people groups in the area. Were they to settle in one place and join one of the local city-states, it was likely that they would eventually just be absorbed into that larger local society and be considered part of the Hittites or Perizzites. If this were to happen, they would cease to be the people of God’s covenant with Abraham.

The other threat was hostility. Jacob feared facing Esau with 400 men. There were certainly city-states in the area with similar or greater numbers of fighting men and/or mercenaries. Jacob’s herds, children, and servants made them a target for conquest and plunder.

It is this tension that lurks behind the scenes of the story in today’s chapter. It starts with a powerful, heartsick son of the local ruler who is infatuated with the daughter of Jacob. The English translation says that he “raped” Jacob’s daughter Dinah, but the Hebrew word, šākab, can also mean consensual pre-marital sex. It’s possible that this was a Romeo and Juliet type elopement between two young people who knew that their fathers would never agree to the union. This was quite common in the culture of the day when marriages were arranged for social and economic purposes. Even if Dinah and Shechem were conspiring to force the union, Jacob and his sons would have considered it a shameful and deceitful rape of their daughter/sister.

Shechem’s father tries to redeem the situation by offering to arrange the marriage of Shechem and Dinah complete with a generous bride price, along with a political and economic alliance should Jacob choose to settle down there (threat: absorption).

Without Jacob’s knowledge, Dinah’s brothers arrange a deceitful charade intended to kill all of the local males and take all they have as plunder. Fascinating that deceit has now appeared in the family system in the third generation. First in Rebekah (and her brother Laban), then in Jacob, and now in Simeon and Levi. Like the hot-headed Sonny in The Godfather, Simeon and Levi lead their brothers in committing a violent act of vengeance that would have been considered grossly out of proportion to the wrong that had initially been committed. This only increased the threat of hostility in the area. When other city-states learn of it, those people groups will immediately see Jacob & Sons as a violent threat. That would motivate them to make an alliance with nearby city-states and attack Jacob to both eliminate the threat and plunder his lucrative operation.

The brothers return home with all of the plunder from their conquest. Having killed all the men, all of the women, children, herds, and possessions would have been taken as plunder. The brothers “made off like bandits,” as it were. Jacob chastises his sons for initiating such a reckless plan that only serves to escalate the threats against the family. Amidst the din of plundered livestock, women, and children, their reply was that the violent act of vengeance was justified by the shameful treatment of their sister. In essence: “Hey pop!? This wasn’t business. It was strictly personal.”

In the quiet this morning, I found myself meditating on the tension of absorption and hostility. It was the same tension Jesus spoke to His followers about when calling them to be in the world but not of the world. For three centuries the Jesus movement faced constant hostility as Rome fed them to the lions in the Circus to entertain the masses. Then, almost overnight, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and “the church” was absorbed into the Empire. It became the Empire.

[cue: Vader’s Theme]

Two thousand years later, I find that the same tension exists for me in my own earthly journey. As a follower of Jesus, I am also to be in the world not of it. I believe that, for me, this requires me to think, speak, act, and relate in ways that flow contrary to the ways of this world and the Kingdoms of this World. What does it mean for me to not be absorbed in the world of social media, cancel culture, and political correctness?

During my generation, I’ve witnessed “Christendom” become a “post-Christian” world. Being a follower of Jesus has fallen from favor in popular culture while hostility is on the rise. At least 68 churches in Canada have been burned to the ground and tens of thousands of Christians have been killed in Nigeria. While I am currently insulated from these tragic realities, I can’t help but notice the changes I’ve observed in my lifetime. I can’t help but see the storm clouds on the horizon.

Some mornings I find myself thinking about these big macro thoughts and issues of our world, culture, and society. I always try and end my time in quiet with the question, “What does this mean for me today?” On mornings like today, this is where I tend to end up:

Love God with everything I’ve got.
Love others as I love myself.Keep following.
Keep pressing on one step at a time.
Keep living one day at a time.
Hold the tension.
Forgive.
Be kind.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Letting Go

Letting Go (CaD Gen 31) Wayfarer

It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” 
Genesis 31:49 (NIV)

The holiday season is just around the corner and I’ve already begun thinking about updating my wish list for the family. Wendy and I have already made a few purchases to try and get ahead of the rush given the current smattering of supply and shipping issues.

I can’t help but think of my childhood when I would scour the Sears “Wish Book” catalog for hours and hours. It was in those pages that I first came across a Mizpah necklace. It’s actually two necklaces that each have one-half of a medallion onto which the verse I quoted from today’s chapter is inscribed: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” This verse is also used sometimes as a benediction to end a worship service.

While the sentiment of Laban’s words, taken at face value, may sound like a heart-warming desire between loved ones, that is definitely not what Laban and Jacob were communicating.

Jacob and Laban have spent twenty years in a passive-aggressive battle of deceits. Even in today’s chapter, the mutual distrust is palpable. This is true not only of Jacob and Laban, but we find that Leah and Rachel also feel cheated by their own father. He has treated his own daughters contemptuously.

Thus, when Laban says, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other,” he is stating a sentiment built up from twenty years of injury, greed, deception, and broken promises. Laban is saying of Jacob, “I can’t trust you out of my sight, so I’ll have to trust God to hold you accountable and judge you.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I found myself journeying through the sense of disappointment that a verse that appears to be so encouraging and reassuring actually springs from distrust and suspicion. Then, I continued to meditate on it, and I came to the conclusion that there is wisdom in Laban’s Mizpah covenant.

Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of relationships with individuals who injured me relationally. There are individuals who gave me very good reasons to distrust them. As I write this, I’m even recalling individuals for whom I know I could have made trouble. I could have confronted their deceits or turned them into authority. I could have gotten certain individuals fired or in trouble with the law. In a couple of cases, every part of me wanted to do so.

But, I didn’t.

I chose not to because to do so would have been acting out of anger and retaliation. I chose not to because Jesus tells me to bless those who curse me, and sometimes that blessing includes withholding personal judgment, vengeance, and the perpetuation of injury to one another. Jesus also said:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

At Mizpah, Laban lets Jacob go. He gives up trying to control, avenge, and get even. He surrenders his son-in-law to God. He stops trying to be detective, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in the relationship. He trusts God to handle those roles from this moment on.

Along my life journey, I’ve found this to be a spiritually healthy step to take.

Come to think of it, a Mizpah necklace in the Sears catalog might have served as a good reminder between Jacob and Laban that sometimes relational feuds need to end by surrendering them and entrusting them to God.

Note: Mizpah necklace on the featured photo is from Gathering Charms on Etsy.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development

Devastation, Dinosaurs, and Spiritual Development (CaD Ps 79) Wayfarer

Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times
    the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord.

Psalm 79:13 (NIV)

It’s Christmas season! Yesterday, Wendy and I had the blessing of hugging our children and our grandson for the first time since last December. Milo got to put the ornaments that celebrate each of the four Christmases he’s been with us on the tree. Around the base of the tree is my father’s Lionel train set, and Milo became the fourth generation to experience the joy that train chugging around the tracks.

As I experience Christmas anew this year through the eyes of a three-year-old, I’m reminded of my own childhood. Each year I would get out the Sears Christmas Wish Book catalog and make my bucket list of all the toys that I wanted. It was usually a big list and included a host of big-ticket items my parents could never afford and probably wouldn’t buy for me even if they could because there’s know way that the giant chemistry set was going to accomplish anything but make a mess, require a lot of parental assistance, and probably blow up the house. I couldn’t manage such mature cognitive reasoning in my little brain. All I knew was it was really cool, it looked really fun, and all my friends at school would be really jealous.

Along this life journey, I’ve come to understand that my finite and circumstantial emotions and desires are often incongruent with the larger picture realities of both reason and Spirit.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 79, is an angry blues rant that was written after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. It is a raw description of the scene of devastation after the Babylonians destroyed the city and razed Solomon’s Temple to the ground in 586 B.C. Blood and death are everywhere. Vultures and wild dogs are feasting on dead bodies because there aren’t enough people alive and well to bury the bodies. The strong, educated, and young have been taken as prisoners to Babylon. The ruins of God’s Temple have been desecrated with profane images and graffiti. The songwriter pours out heartbreak, shock, sorrow, rage, and desperate pleas for God to rise up and unleash holy vengeance in what the ancients described as “an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth.”

As I read the songwriters rant this morning, there are three things that give me layers of added perspective:

First, when God first called Abraham (the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes and nations), He made it clear that the intent of making a nation of Abraham’s descendants was so that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them, not destroyed.

Second, God had spoken to the Hebrews through the prophet Jeremiah warning them that the natural consequences of their sin and unfaithfulness would be Babylonian captivity through the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, to whom God referred through Jeremiah as “my servant.” It appears that the songwriter may have missed that.

Third, I couldn’t help but read the songwriter’s plea for God to pay back their enemies “seven times” the contempt that their enemies had shown them, and think of the time Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive an enemy who wronged him “seven times.” Peter was trying to show Jesus that he was beginning to understand Jesus’ teaching. To the Hebrews, the number seven spiritually represented “completeness.” When the songwriter asked for “seven times” the vengeance it was a spiritual notion of “eye-for-an-eye” justice would be complete. Peter’s question assumed that forgiving an enemy seven times would be spiritually “complete” forgiveness. Jesus responds to Peter that a more correct equation for forgiveness in the economy of God’s Kingdom would be “seventy-times-seven.”

I come back to the songwriter of Psalm 79 with these three things in mind. The first time I read it, like most 21st century readers, I was taken back by the blood, gore, raw anger, and cries for holy vengeance. Now I see the song with a different perspective. I see a songwriter who is devastated and confused. I hear the crying out of a soul who has witnessed unspeakable things, and whose emotions can’t reasonably see any kind of larger perspective in the moment.

This morning I am reminded of what I discussed in my Wayfarer Weekend podcast, Time (Part 1). Humanity at the time of the ancient Hebrews was still very much in the early childhood stage of development. The songwriter is expressing his thoughts, emotions, and desires like a child desperately asking Santa for a real dinosaur for Christmas. Not just any dinosaur, a real T-Rex to put in the backyard.

Today’s psalm is another example of God honoring the need that we have as human beings of expressing our hearts and emotions in the moment, as we have them, no matter where we find ourselves in our spiritual development. As my spiritual journey has progressed, I’ve gotten better at processing my emotions and having very different conversations with God about circumstances than I did when I was a teenager, a young adult, a young husband, and a young father. It doesn’t invalidate the feelings and conversations I had back then. They were necessary for me to grow, learn, and mature in spirit.

In the quiet this morning, I’m identifying with the songwriter of Psalm 79, not affirming blood vengeance and “eye-for-an-eye-justice,” but affirming that it was where the songwriter was in that moment, just like I have had some rants and prayers along the journey that I’m kind of embarrassed think about now. This is a journey. I’m not who I was, And, I’m not yet who I will ultimately become in eternity. I’m just a wayfarer on the road of life, taking it one-step-at-a-time into a new work week.

For the record, Milo. No, you can’t have a real dinosaur. Sorry, buddy.

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Just Appeal

Just Appeal (CaD Ps 17) Wayfarer

From you let my vindication come….
Psalm 17:2a (NRSVCE)

Years ago, I found myself the object of unfair criticism by an individual who I thought was my friend. He was unhappy with me, though instead of confronting me and discussing his concerns, he decided to take his grievances to the court of public opinion. I confess that I was both sad and angered by his actions. My friend proved to be my enemy.

As luck would have it I found myself, sometime later, in possession of information regarding improprieties this person had committed. I had the opportunity to act with vengeance against the person who had injured me. I had a smoking gun that would pay back my enemy’s injuries with compounding interest. He would be out of a job and would be publicly humiliated.

I ignored the evidence. I let it go. I made a conscious choice to continue treating the person with kindness and deference whenever I run into him. Which, I still do on occasion.

Today’s chapter is yet another song penned by King David. The fascinating thing for me was not something I found in a particular line or verse, but the song itself as a whole. David structured this song like a legal appeal one would make to a King. As king, David would have heard a million legal appeals brought to him, and to King Saul while he served as a court musician, by people wanting their case decided. King David, however, is making his appeal to God, whom he places in authority above his own royal position.

It starts with a formal appeal to God to listen to his plea. He then establishes his position of innocence. He reiterates his request to be heard and praises God for his goodness and mercy. He then lays out his case against his enemies and asks God to vindicate him by judging and righteously punishing his enemies. He ends with a statement of confident trust that God will do right by him.

Sometimes in this life we find ourselves wronged with little or no position with which to get justice. Sometimes, we find that the only justice at our disposal is the justice we take into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to choose against my human desire for vengeance and vindication. Jesus tells me to consciously turn the other cheek, itself a conscious act of response that he exemplified time and time again as he suffered through the kangaroo court of the high priest, then the religious elders, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Pilate again, the crowds who days earlier had hailed Him as king but now shouted for His execution, and finally His enemies who stood at the foot of His cross and hurled insults at Him.

David’s psalm is a testament to Jesus’ teaching, and to David’s own example when he had multiple chances to take personal vengeance against his enemy, King Saul, while personally ensuring his ascension to the throne. With each opportunity David chose to ignore the opportunity, to let it go, and treat his enemy with deference.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about individuals who, along my life journey, I’ve considered enemies. There’s a whole bunch from childhood who I now consider friends. There are some that the road of life led in a completely different direction, and any hard feelings I may have once felt are as distant as they are. There are others, like the person I described at the top of this post, who remain in my circles of community. Their actions would indicate that they consider me some kind of enemy, but I’ve made a choice to keep treating them as friends.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that pleading my case to the only Just Judge, and choosing to surrender my need for vengeance, frees my heart and mind from toxic emotions and actions which will only perpetuate and escalate circumstances. Turning the other cheek is not a passive response, it’s a conscious choice to make my appeal to God and leave it there.

I know. It sounds crazy. Following Jesus usually leads me to make choices that run opposite my natural inclinations. But, I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Is “Living Sacrifice” an Oxymoron?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.
Romans 12:1 (NIV)

To Paul’s readers, the term “living sacrifice” would have seemed an oxymoron. Animal sacrifice was a common part of religion at the time. This was not only true of Judaism, but most all of the Roman cults and religions practiced some sort of animal sacrifice. So whether the followers of Jesus in Rome who were reading Paul’s words had come from Jewish or Gentile backgrounds, they would have scratched their heads.

Living sacrifice?” I can hear one say. “But, doesn’t the very notion of ‘sacrifice’ mean that something dies?”

Quite right,” I imagine Paul replying if he were there in person. “You do.”

Excuse me?” the Roman believer asks quizzically.

You are the sacrifice,” Paul says, looking the believer in the eye and offering a warm smile. “In fact dying to yourself is really the heart of your worship. Not the occasional sacrifice of an animal like all these other religions you see around us. Anyone can do that and it costs very little in the long run. Cheap and easy, really. Our Lord Jesus was quite direct in telling us that in order to be His follower we have to take up our own cross. We would have to sacrifice ourselves for others, for Him. Just as He did for us. That’s at the very heart of true worship, and being a true follower.

But how does that work, exactly?” the believer asks. “How exactly do I go about making myself a ‘living sacrifice?‘”

Ah,” Paul says, a twinkle in his eye. “I’m glad you asked.”

The entirety of today’s chapter answers that question. What does it mean to truly worship by offering myself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God?” Ironically, going to church, singing, throwing a buck in the plate, and all the things we normally associate with “worship” are not even mentioned.

Here’s a bulleted and paraphrased list of what Paul goes on to mention in the rest of today’s chapter:

  • Don’t follow the “It’s all about me” behavior and thought patterns of this world.
  • Transform your thinking; Renew your mind with Jesus’ teaching.
  • Don’t think too much of yourself; Maintain an on-going sober self-assessment.
  • Use your gifts and abilities to serve others.
  • Hate evil.
  • Cling to what is good.
  • Devote yourself to loving others.
  • Attach such worth to others that you naturally serve them first.
  • Be zealous in serving others, and keep feeding the zeal.
  • Be joyful in hope for all God can and will do.
  • Be patient when you’re afflicted, there’s a point to the pain.
  • Faithfully maintain an on-going conversation with God.
  • Share what you have with anyone in need.
  • Practice hospitality. Seriously, practice. You need to get better at it.
  • Bless those who persecute you. Do something nice for them and if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • If you know someone who got a win, sincerely celebrate with them (don’t envy their success or good fortune).
  • If you know someone who is grieving, be present in their pain.
  • Live in harmony with others; You might not be on the same note, but you can at least blend your differences so as not to be dissonant to everyone around you.
  • Don’t be proud; Every day you encounter people in lower, more humble circumstances than you. Be willing to meet them at their level, even if it means stooping below your comfortable social status.
  • Don’t be conceited. Consider the reality that you just might not that important in the grand scheme of things. Embrace it.
  • Evil that is done to you does not justify revenge. Let it go.
  • Do the right thing for everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • You can’t control others, but you can control yourself, so practice that self-control to live peacefully with everyone, not just your particular religious, political, tribal, ethnic or socio-economic constituency.
  • Let me repeat, give up your right to revenge. Vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting it hurt someone else.
  • If your enemy is hungry, give her some food.
  • If your enemy is thirsty, give him some water.
  • Responding to evil with your own evil tactics only escalates the situation and then everybody loses. Respond with goodness. You’ll sleep better.

In order to practice this list on a daily basis,” Paul says to his friend, “it will require some sacrifices on your part: your ego, your time, your pride, your resources, your wants, your comfort, and even your rights. That is how we worship God by being a living sacrifice.”

Ancient Vengeance Cloaked in Modern Technology

“Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee.”
Numbers 35:6 (NIV)

Last night as Wendy and I sat on the couch she expressed grief and frustration over a pattern of behavior we’ve been observing on social media. It is quite common for the discourse on Facebook and Twitter and online forums to sink into petty jabs, unnecessary name calling, and a general spirit of anger, hatred, and conflict. And this, we routinely notice, from many whom we love and who eagerly claim to be followers of Jesus.

For the past month or two my chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers has taken me back to an ancient times. I’ve been mulling over the lives and times of Moses and the Hebrew tribes. It was, without a doubt, a very bloody and ugly period of human society. Ancient tribal societies lived in a time without laws, law enforcement agents, and a system of justice. It was a time of blood feuds, vengeance and “an eye-for-an-eye” free-for-all of individual retribution.

I can’t help but think of the stories we know like The Godfather in which warring families get embroiled in ever escalating acts of violence and murder against one another. The Tataglia family attempts to kill but only wounds Vito Corleone. Vito’s son, Sonny, actually kills Bruno Tataglia in retribution. But, that’s not enough. Michael Corleone also kills the man who orchestrated the plot and the Police Captain who protects him. But that’s not enough. Everyone goes to the mattresses. But that’s not enough. Michael eventually kills the heads of all the other mafia families to protect himself from retribution. The violence and vengeance never ends.

As Sean Connery famously quips in The Untouchables, “He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue!”

What Wendy was observing last night is an example of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We’re still embroiling ourselves in petty, ever escalating feuds between political, religious, and social clans. Now, however, we do it from a safe distance and use words as our weapons. Somehow, we believe that this is better on the grading curve of human society. Name calling on Facebook isn’t as barbaric as literally sticking a knife in someone’s back. Or is it?

I’m reminded in the quiet this morning of Jesus words:

“For the mouth speaks [and the hand types] what the heart is full of.  A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In today’s chapter, God through Moses is leading a radical step forward in human history. It is a formalized system of justice. The priestly clan of the Levites are scattered to live among all the other tribes. Within those tribes the priestly Levites create “cities of refuge” to which murderers and those who commit manslaughter may flee. The priests gave sanctuary so that a trial, complete with witnesses, could be conducted and a just verdict could be rendered. The accused was required to stay under the protection of priest in the city of refuge. But get this: If the High Priest died, a period of amnesty was unleashed. The accused were free. Any blood feud or vendetta of vengeance was to end.

What great foreshadowing God gives in today’s chapter for what He is going to do on a cosmic spiritual scale in the Great Story. Jesus, High Priest (Heb 6:20) in the mysterious order of Melchizedek, comes to live among us like the priests sent to live among the tribes. [cue: Silent Night] To Jesus we may flee for refuge with all the accusation, guilt, condemnation and social vengeance nipping at our heels. When Jesus, the High Priest, dies then amnesty reigns. Forgiveness and grace (literally, favor we don’t deserve and didn’t earn) are poured out to the accused and condemned. Prisoners are freed. Vengeance ends.

Wait, there’s more. Those of us who follow Jesus are called “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Spiritually, I become a Levite of our time. I’m a priest in the order of Jesus. I am to be a person and place where “others” (even those of other tribes I don’t particularly like) may flee to find protection, understanding, kindness, mercy, grace, compassion, and justice.

So, I have to ask myself: When I allow myself to get stirred up  and let that f*ing, clueless, ignorant, MORON on Facebook know just what a #*&%-eating, #@)#-faced, #)@(#* they are… am I extending the royal, priestly rites handed down to me by Jesus? Am I being marked by the Spirit of protection, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and compassion that I claim to have received from Jesus, my High Priest? Am I fulfilling my calling to be part of that royal priesthood? Or, am I perpetuating a deep, very entrenched human part of me that is given to bloody, feudal vengeance cloaked in 21st century technology?

Ugh.

Lord, have mercy on me. Help me lay down my weaponized words; My vengeance which I try to costume as “justice” and “righteousness.” Make me a refuge for “others” – all “others.”

The Dark Turn Towards Vengeance

"Vengeance" by jbelluch via Flickr
“Vengeance” by jbelluch via Flickr

Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:7-8 (NIV)

Years ago I found myself the victim of another person. I wasn’t wronged in any tangible way, mind you. It was more of the personal affront in which a person of authority demeans and diminishes  another person because he or she has the power to do so. I was hurt and my hurt became anger. Sometime later, while still seething with anger, I found myself in a unique position to wreak vengeance on the perpetrator and make this person’s life extremely uncomfortable. I had a choice to make.

The psalms are song lyrics and they express the breadth of human emotions. Today’s psalm was written in extreme circumstances that we can scarcely imagine today. Around 600 B.C. the Babylonians laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Eventually, they destroyed the city, razed the walls, tore down the temple of Solomon, plundered the city, and returned to Babylon taking all of the best and brightest young people as their slaves (fyi: the prophet Daniel was one of them).

The writer of today’s psalm was one of the slaves living in Babylonian captivity. The lyricist had survived the siege during which, according to Jeremiah in his song of Lamentation, the residents of Jerusalem were reduced to cannibalism to survive. Perhaps the song writer had been forced to eat the flesh of his family or friends to survive. Certainly the song writer had seen his hometown and all he held dear destroyed. He had likely seen friends, family and neighbors senselessly slaughtered in sadistic ways. Then he had been forcibly taken from family to live life as the slave of those who destroyed their family and home.

With psalm 137, the writer is feeling more than just the blues. His pain was coming out in anger. I get that. My pain of being victimized is nothing compared to what the writer of this song went through, but yet the human reaction is the same. Pain turns to anger, but once anger is realized the path leads to a fork in the road. We have a choice. We can sit endlessly in the anger as it endlessly gnaws away our spirit, we can choose the path of forgiveness, or we can choose the path of vengeance. Our psalmist is struggling with feelings of vengeance and he pours them out in his musical prayer. I like to think that writing a song about it was probably a healthy outlet for his feelings.

As for me, I chose not to pursue vengeance on my perpetrator. The thoughts of revenge were sweet, but in the long run I believe it would have damaged me spiritually more than any pain and discomfort it would have inflicted on my perpetrator. Like the psalmist I expressed my anger and desire for vengeance to God and I vented with a safe cadre of loved ones. Then, I let it go. I chose to forgive and gave up any “right” I felt for revenge.

Anger and the desire for vengeance are real emotions. They need to be explored and expressed in healthy ways. Finding a creative outlet like the psalmist can be an important part of that process. The path of vengeance carries with it deep spiritual consequences. When anger makes the dark turn toward vengeance victims risk critical damage to their own souls.

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Vengeance Times Seven

lukodi drawingO Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times
for the scorn they have hurled at you.
Psalm 79:12 (NLT)

A year ago our kids, Taylor and Clayton, travelled to Uganda. Taylor put her Art Therapy education to work with young women and children in Lukodi who had been victims of local terrorists calling themselves The Lord’s Resistance Army. Taylor brought home a stack of pictures drawn by children. Mixed among the very child-like images of a soccer match, a church, or tree there were equally child-like images of their homes burning, giant men with guns hovering over them, and dead bodies lying on the ground bleeding. The reality of the horror these children had experienced drawn by their own hands is heart wrenching. My soft-hearted daughter came home with that soft-heart ripped open and the realization that there was a threshold on what she could handle as an Art Therapist.

I am blessed to have lived a life relatively free of tragedy. I cannot, and hope that I will not, ever experience the horrors like those of the women and children of Lukodi, or the horrors Asaph describes in today’s psalm of those who suffered through and witnessed the seige and destruction of both Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.

Scholars call pslams like today’s an imprecatory psalm. It is the blues on steroids in which the song writer not only expresses their pain, but also their desire for revenge. It is an angry call for vengeance. In Asaph’s lyric scream, he calls for vengeance multiplied seven times. In God’s Message, seven is a special number. It is the number of “completion” and in calling for vengeance times seven Asaph is asking for complete destruction of his enemies. I can only imagine that the hunger for vengeance is a very real, very natural, very human emotion for those who have suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of others.

I can’t condemn victims for wanting vengeance. I think it is a very real emotion that needs to be expressed in healthy ways whether that be a crayon drawing, a poem, or a blues song. Yet, this morning as I read Asaph’s call for vengeance times seven I was reminded of Jesus’ response when Peter asked if he should forgive someone seven times to make sure he had completely forgiven the person. “Not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

I’m Keeping My Mouth Shut

Detail from Netherlandish Proverbs
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor;
    a sensible person keeps quiet.
Proverbs 11:12 (NLT)

One the reasons I value our daily venture into God’s Message is that it often reminds and keeps me from doing stupid things that I would later regret.

For example, there is a certain fool who operates within my circles of influence. I call him a fool because his actions have been consistent with those of a fool described right in the proverbs we’re reading. A while back he put himself in a high position and caused me and my pride an invisible little injury. It was not a major wound, but one of those nagging ones that starts to itch just when you think it’s healed over. Because of his foolishness, this “neighbor” of mine has given me plenty of opportunities to belittle him, and more than one opportunity to publicly humiliate him. I confess that I spent more time thinking about it than I should, but I’ve oublicly kept my mouth shut and constrained my conversation about the matter to my closest confidants.

As much as it would satisfy my pride and ego to take him down a notch or two, I have been continually reminded that my role is to forgive and not to seek out some sort of eye for an eye vengeance no matter how small the injury or the payback. This neighbor of mine is on his own journey. God is working in his life as well. I have already witnessed the truth of the proverbs as his foolishness has and will bring upon him its own negative consequences.

God is in control of the matter, and He does not need me and my desire for payback muddying up the works. It would only bolster my neighbors belief that I deserved the original injury he caused. And, it would ultimately hurt me more than it would him. So, I will keep my mouth shut, scratch the scab on the wound that itches me now and again, and choose to forgive one more time (I have a ways to go to reach the “seventy times seven” ;-)).