Stopping the Cycle of Vengeance

March 26, 2018

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Matthew 5:7

We know that Jesus taught us to be merciful toward those who have mistreated us. But what about when someone who has wronged us never asks for forgiveness? Or when a person who has deeply hurt us won’t admit that they’ve done anything wrong?

Make no mistake about it—we struggle along these lines. I don’t know anybody who’s been hurt deeply by someone else and has easily said, “No problem, I forgive it all.” It’s okay to struggle. It’s human. What we don’t want to do is succumb to the temptation to hold on to our bitterness or take matters into our own hands to vindicate ourselves. If we take an attitude of unforgiveness or vengeance, we perpetuate the problem instead of solving it.

Mission to the Headhunters

In their book, Mission to the Headhunters, Frank and Marie Drown wrote about how the Shuar people of Ecuador were involved in vengeance killings. Tribal history revolved around groups avenging themselves on one another. As I read about the ongoing hatred and unforgiveness and suspicion, I thought of how much of what we see in our modern inner cities, with the ongoing issues of gang violence and so forth, is really just the same thing that the Drowns encountered among the indigenous peoples of the jungles of Ecuador. When people hate each other and show no mercy, love, or forgiveness, the cycle of vengeance perpetuates itself.

At times we find ourselves in a position to stick it to a person who has wronged us. Perhaps we’ve come into a place of authority over them, and we might be tempted to think, Ah, so this is how God is going to deal with this person. Vengeance is His, and He’s put me in this position to use me as His instrument!

Showing Mercy

That’s a wrong conclusion. We’re in the position so that God can use us to show mercy. He makes the sun shine on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust (see Matthew 5:45). As His children, He expects us to behave as He does.

The only way the cycle of vengeance is ever broken is when a person who wants to kill another person says, “I’m not going to kill you. Actually, I’m going to love you. I’m going to forgive you. I’m going to try to help you.” And this is what God desires of us.

Those who are merciful, Jesus said, “shall obtain mercy.” We already obtained God’s mercy, of course, when we were born again, but like those who have hurt us, we still need mercy, because even as Christians, we fail. Sometimes miserably.

We might be tempted to be harsh and condemning toward someone who has offended us or even, perhaps, toward someone who hasn’t wronged us but whom we know is in sin. But we don’t want to do that, because we never know when we might find ourselves in need of mercy.

We need to show mercy, because at the end of the day, when we stand before the Lord, we will be counting on God to mercifully apply the blood of Jesus Christ to our own case. If we are merciless, heartless, harsh, or condemning, we’ve got a rude awakening ahead of us.

Forgiveness Can Be Hard

Forgiveness can be hard, even impossible, but we must entrust ourselves to the Lord and look to Him for the power to do what we can’t do. Maybe we can’t conjure up mercy for a person at a given moment, but God can cause His mercy for that person to flow through us—and He can change our heart in the process.