To soften the avenger's heart

A Christian Science perspective.

An anti-Islamic movie made in the United States has fueled widespread anger in the Muslim world, resulting in mob violence and deaths. But vengeance, the twin brother of anger, has become destructively tolerated and popularized in many places. A deeper understanding of the power of love and the impotence of hate can soften the hard heart.

The impulse for justice springs from love, which naturally and powerfully eschews evil. Love is by its very nature principled. The founder of the Monitor and of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, said, “God is Love, and therefore He is divine Principle” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 275).

Justice is not served if a wrongdoer gets away with an evil deed. A loving and just heart could not stand by and let a preventable evil act take place, or allow a crime to go unpunished. But enforcement of lawful redress is a far cry from retaliation. One is based on law and justice; the other on antagonistic human will, which ultimately fails to achieve the very sense of vindication it seeks.

Temperance and patient forgiveness are hallmarks of Christ Jesus’ teachings. Great thinkers from many lands have echoed his teachings. Anyone can grasp the power of spiritual love.

In my work in an Arab country, a dispute erupted between two local professionals, a man and a woman – a Christian and a Muslim. As their boss, I required an apology from the wrongdoer. Families and religious differences became involved, however, and it was apparent that an apology would not be enough.

I prayed to God for guidance and to see the underlying power and presence of divine Love. The woman involved spoke eloquently of her mother’s advice to rise above the vengeful spirit of her antagonist. In the end, all were able to move on. I was deeply touched by the wisdom, temperance, and magnanimity displayed, and how dignified trust in God’s dispensation of justice was more powerful than raw retaliation. Animosity is impotent in the face of the expression of the Love that is God.

We all can reconsider the growth of a popular avenging spirit. Is it so impossible or unrealistic to respond to insult or violence or terrorism with intelligence, justice, restraint, and lawful processes, rather than with naked – or thinly clad – vengeance? And, in the long run, are acts of vengeance effective at deterring insults or violent attacks?

The cause of justice is really won on the battlefield of ideas. The force of moral courage – the willingness to withhold the counterpunch, to speak the truth to human arrogance, and to love even our enemies – surpasses the force of the most heroic soldier.

The Apostle Paul saw this clearly: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:4, 5).

We are not helpless. God is just, and God is our omnipotent sovereign. As a South African saying goes, Amandla Ngawethu (Power is ours). Let us pray for humility, temperance, and guidance in finding the most powerful response to outrage.

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