We have seen that revenge is a destructive, damaging reaction to pain and suffering inflicted on us willingly or unwillingly. At its core, it has to do with our EGO (that false self) that needs to always win, always be in control, always on top of things. Not surprisingly, in Jesus we see revenge being discouraged. Jesus, as the manifestation of God in material form, would rather take the place of the victim, of the “looser” instead of that of the “winner”. God would rather suffer (as pain and hurt is inflicted), than defend Himself and retaliate. In Jesus we a see a God who is not interested in what is right and what is wrong so as to punish the wrong doer as a pay back.
But then, we’re faced with this “other” God, who seems to be totally for revenge, who can’t take any insult … who can’t take NO for an answer. It is predominantly described in the Old Testament, although not only there, in texts such as the ones we looked at in the last post. So what are we to do? Throughout the history there have been various attempts to resolve this. My attempt is one that seeks to keep the Scriptures intact (no Marcionian purging), tries to find value in whatever particular human expression and is in sync with the God expressed in Jesus.
After examining the passages in the Scriptures that speak of God’s revenge I have discovered that most of them portray a God who is not defending Himself, but the plight of the weak, of the looser, of those taken advantage of. The revenge described is not a pay back as a reaction to a wounded EGO (God’s; BTW, God does not have an ego), but as a PROTECTION against further abuse. When God stepped in a situation He was not intending to make the wrong doers suffer for what they did as such, but used suffering (and death when necessary) as a way of STOP-ing the injustice. This injustice didn’t have anything to do directly with Him (as if people can really alter something of God, against His will), but had everything to do with the social imbalance of people oppressing and taking advantage of others. The weak and the powerless were the easy target. God identified so deeply with this group of people that their plight became His, their honor that was disregarded became His honor, their glory (God’s image that was woven in them by the Creator) became His glory. It is this theme that we see in Jesus when He says that whatever we do to these “little ones” (read weak, powerless, marginalized, voiceless etc.) we do unto Him. Later John in his epistles writes that we cannot separate our relationship with God from that we have with out fellow men and women. It is in this sense that we need to understand Paul when he talks about God’s revenge. We should not use revenge, Paul would say, to defend our ego (that is wrong and does not produce anything good), but allow God who fully identifies with our hurt deal with it in His infinite wisdom.
Is God revengeful? This happens to be one of the many instances of what I call, confused semantics, i.e. when semantics plays its tricks on us. Words, frequently, assimilate meanings different than their initial, original use and these various meanings get used then interchangeably.
When revenge is being referred to God in Scriptures, it has “sanitized” its meaning from pay back, ego rooted reaction … to taking the side of the disadvantaged, which is as altruistic as it can get.
Yes, this attitude is highly encouraged in anyone, especially in those who follow in the footsteps of Jesus. It is as noble as it gets to fight for the cause of those taken advantage of: the poor, the widower, the immigrant, those exploited etc., etc., not in perpetuating violence, not with the purpose of making people suffer, but in order to stop the suffering and injustice and bringing reconciliation between all people. The ultimate goal is not to put a group of people above others, but to bring about true and open friendship among all people. That is after all what the Gospel of reconciliation is all about, isn’t it?