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“Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind” – Juvenal

The other day my oldest son came in the house visibly frustrated. He told me he’s done playing or having anything to do with his long time friend. The reason: his friend mistreated and hurt him in front of the other kids. His friends’ actions were clearly wrong, but what should my son’s attitude be? Should I tell him to stand up for himself and not allow this to happen? Should he reciprocate and pay back? Should he give his friend the silence treatment and ignore him in front of the other kids? Should he end their friendship? In short, I had to take a position to encourage my son either toward revenge in some form or forgiveness and grace.

Unfortunately, more often than not revenge seems to be our choice for responding to the wrongs done to us, intentionally or unintentionally, from individuals to larger groups. Hollywood seems to thrive on movies that celebrate vengeance. Ironically, at first sight it appears to be an issue of justice. We invoke the cosmic balance where for every action there must be a corresponding reaction, for every decision there must be a consequence, bad has to be dealt with bad. It’s not right, we say, for evil to go unpunished. Evil has to be RE-PAYED or PAID-BACK.

When we look at revenge more closely, however, we notice that it doesn’t really have anything to do with justice. The goal of revenge usually consists of forcing the perceived wrongdoer to suffer the same or greater pain than that which was originally inflicted. It is the eye for eye retaliatory kind of system.

Instead of bringing justice, revenge has proven to be more of a clash of egos, hasn’t it. I cannot take the fact that my ego (my image, my reputation, my honor, my standing in the group etc.) has been threatened, so I retaliate.

    The French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, taught that aggression results as a psychological defense against threats of fragmentation. That is, as infants, we are just a jumble of diverse biological processes over which we have no authority, and our first task in life is to develop a coherent identity which “pulls together” this fragmented confusion. This identity may give the appearance of a unified personality, but it really is just a psychological illusion that hides our essential human vulnerability and weakness. And so, when anything or anyone threatens us with the truth of our essential fragmentation, the quickest, easiest, and most common defense available—to hide the truth of our weakness and to give the illusion that we possess some sort of power—is aggression.

By inflicting pain (in whatever form) I am telling the other party to stop doing this in the future or else. So revenge becomes, supposedly, a mechanism for self defense. The problem is that from the dawn of time revenge has not ended hostility, but has jumpstarted a cycle of violence, inflicting more hurt, causing more damage.

Although those who seek revenge are thought to be strong and powerful people, revenge shows weakness not strength. If you know who you are (which admittedly is not an easy task!) you don’t need to defend it by taking out those around you, by putting them down so you can stand above. A better attitude when hurt by someone is compassion, a sense of feeling sorry for the person’s insecurity and vulnerability, a sense of empathy and of embrace resulting in forgiveness, in letting go.

If vengeance doesn’t really produce anything good, if our human history has shown it to be a malady, a source of destruction, a reflection of insecurity, a narcissistic struggle, then what are we to do with the idea of a vengeful God? Does revenge belong to God? Can God and revenge co-exist? That’s what we will deal with in our next post.

Until then, what are your thoughts, experience on revenge?