Breaking the Revenge Cycle
Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life
It would be something to hear a young person, or any person, when asked what he or she wanted to do in life, answer, "Help break the vicious cycle of revenge." Of course, such a response would be unlikely; such a vision is not typical of most people. Yet, to a battle-weary inhabitant of the Middle East, of Northern Ireland, of Southeast Asia, or to a member of an inner-city gang, such a goal might be understood.
The ravages of hate, violence, and retaliation weigh heavily on the world. And while we can be hopeful for the success of organizations working for reconciliation, it is apparent that greater worldwide commitment to the healing of these problems is still needed.
Hundreds of years ago St. Paul told the Romans: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (12:19). Following this isn't always easy. At times we may be sorely tempted to "get even" when we've been victimized. And here we are instructed to "give place unto wrath" at these very times. God requires us to learn the forgiveness that Paul was speaking of.
I understood this better when reading the instruction of Christ Jesus in the book of Matthew. I paused when I reread something familiar: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (5:38, 39). That had always bothered me. It seemed to turn reason on its head; who in their right mind would willingly let themselves be violated? It had never seemed to make sense. The passage goes even further: "And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away" (verses 40-42).
I had a great desire to understand these words better. As I quietly thought them over, a clear imperative came to me: "The cycle must be broken." There was my answer! Retaliation has got to end-somehow, in some way. It might not be easy or convenient. It could require more courage, commitment, and self-discipline on our part than we've shown ever before. But it must happen.
The question may come, Is it really practical or even possible to break the cycle? For example, in reference to the above-quoted lines, "If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also," I've heard the argument, "Well, I guess that means that if someone asks for my car, I would just have to give it away." Such a position twists this teaching of Jesus into something ridiculous and impractical. It does not take into consideration other of his teachings that provide a larger and more balanced perspective, such as, "If the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through" (Luke 12:39). The thrust of Jesus' words on forgiveness is that we stop thinking in selfish, small-minded patterns and open up to the larger issues. It's really a question of each individual learning to go as far as possible in the way of expressing mercy and forgiveness.
Mary Baker Eddy discovered the healing Science behind the works of Jesus, Christian Science. Her poem entitled "Love" includes words I feel give not just inspiration but practical guidance to all who want to help break the cycle of hatred and revenge that threatens peace everywhere:
If thou the bending reed wouldst break
By thought or word unkind,
Pray that his spirit you partake,
Who loved and healed mankind:
Seek holy thoughts and heavenly strain,
That make men one in love remain.
(Poems, p. 6)
To seek "holy thoughts"-God's messages to us-and pray to "partake" of the healing spirit of Love, is to do something substantial in the struggle for peace.
Other articles discussing the power of God's love appear in a weekly magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel.