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Sensible Options With Better Results Than Retaliation
Two wrongs make a right, some think, if the second wrong will cancel the impact of the first one.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, others say, to prevent the person to whom wrong is done from responding with more wrong.
The more we examine these concepts, the more complicated it becomes to determine our right and responsibility to retaliate. Not surprising, then, that the Good Book gives clear, simple instructions concerning the best way to deal with retaliation. Actually, there are alternatives.
You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person (Matthew 5: 38, 39).
The Hebrew rule of eye for eye, first cited in Exodus 21: 24, is an emphasis on the punishment fitting the crime. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus terminated that law and advised people to practice forgiveness instead of retaliation.
Retaliation extends the evil. Those who must punish extreme crimes like kidnapping, terrorism and murder need God's wisdom to know how not to reward evil with evil. Sometimes an unexpected act of kindness will break a criminal's heart.
By going the extra mile to appease our offenders, as Jesus suggested in the rest of that sermon, we confuse the spirits of evil, and make it easier for our offenders to return our kind gesture. Forgiveness and kindness are effective alternatives to retaliation.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12: 21).
It is very easy to get caught up in getting even. Gradually, we lose focus on the more important reasons for living. We feed vices like hatred, resentment or hostility. These negative forces overcome our wise judgment and we stop thinking clearly. Self-control is an alternative.
Feuding parents forget about the children when they focus on getting back at the ex-spouse. Spiteful employees lose control when they focus on undermining coworkers who undermine them. In such situations, individuals with self-control are able to delay possibly-harmful responses while they think through other actions which are more profitable than retaliation.
A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
What does retaliation tell others about us? Will it serve us better for onlookers to see us as no-nonsense, tit-for-tat fighters; or as patient, level-headed individuals?
What will it tell us about ourselves? Do we prefer to hurt someone and live with regret for years to come; or might we consider maintaining inner peace and a clear conscience without retaliation?
- If we steal from someone who steals from us, we increase the number of thieves in our neighborhood.
- If we set fire to the neighbor’s house, because he set fire to ours, we further decrease the value of our properties.
It is better to react with wisdom and patience and experience better, safer results in the long run.
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
Stuck in Retaliation
This directive came immediately after instruction for spouses. It included advice that they “be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” The author’s argument was that such character, even without words, could win over the heart of a contrary mate.
Spousal abuse of any kind—physical including sexual, verbal, emotional, mental, spiritual—should not be tolerated. Having said that, whatever decision the individuals make, retaliation is not an option. It will weaken personal faith and the power of influence.
If a spouse decides to endure an unfortunate situation, it will take all the courage he or she can muster to bless instead of curse; but the blessing he or she gives will boomerang to bless the one who initiated the blessing.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
Reconciliation, Not Retaliation
First, love for ourselves. Why would we want to subject ourselves to the stress, the making of enemies, and the restlessness that comes with retaliation? Having experienced God’s love and forgiveness, we have an inner peace which might baffle our offenders.
Secure in the love we receive, we long for our offenders to share our experience. If they give us trouble because that is what they have, we respond with love since that is what we have. The power of love to change their attitude can never be matched by the impact of retaliation.
Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!” Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you (Proverbs 20:22).
We may feel humiliated, victimized, taken advantage of when someone blatantly commits a wrongful deed against us; but it is not our responsibility to punish them. In fact our form of retaliation may not even be correct for the offender. What goes around, comes around; and it better to leave the coming around to One who is wiser than we are.
Meanwhile, we know that there is also some retaliation due to us, for the offenses we caused. So it makes sense to submit ourselves to God’s mercy, at the same time we submit our offenders to Him. We are forgiven as we forgive.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
© 2014 Dora Isaac Weithers