Overcoming Vengeance

Author’s Note – Every other month, I write an essay for our church’s newsletter. This is what I will submit for November. I try very hard to be inspirational and thought-provoking instead of preachy, but if religion isn’t your thing, I’ll understand if you skip this post.  This entry pretty much wrote itself after listening to NPR coverage of the Westgate Mall terrorist attack…if you read this, thanks for allowing me to share my beliefs with you.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves but rather give place unto wrath, for it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay saith the Lord.

Romans 12:19

In the movies, the bad guys are easy to spot –  they dress and act in an over-the-top manner and plot to take over the world until the good guys arrive to save the day at the last minute. If only it were that easy to identify our enemies and prevent violence in real life. Events like the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya prove that telling our friends from our foes  can seldom be defined in such black and white terms. We don’t know when  people wish us harm simply because we  think and act differently than they do, though there are certainly those who hold our beliefs against us. Even the Somali terrorists, who were convinced Kenyans should suffer due to their government’s interference in Somalia, had no idea who their enemies actually were when they attacked the mall. They resorted to asking random shoppers and employees questions about Islam to determine their targets. If questions regarding the prophet Mohammad’s mother were answered correctly, lives were spared; those who could not answer were brutally murdered. When we hear of atrocities such as this, our instincts are to want the perpetrators to suffer the same way their victims did, and we like to imagine what we would do to them if we were in charge of their punishment. As tempting as vengeance may be, “an eye for an eye” perpetuates violence and puts us on the same level as our enemies. How then can we find peace in the wake of unjust actions? Though it may be difficult to accept, humanity doesn’t bear the burden of meteing out justice.  God knows who the “bad guys” are and will deal with them accordingly, whether they’re a schoolyard bully or terrorists who spill blood on an international scale.  God has promised us that the wicked will face final judgment, just as the righteous will, and that His wrath will be eternal.  Giving our anger and grief to God allows us to live his commandments and focus on doing good rather than allowing evil a foothold in our lives.  Turning the other cheek may be painful in the short-term, but in God’s plan for us, it will bring us a greater reward than we can ever imagine.