The telephone rang, and the familiar voice bid me good morning from across the world. My brother was calling me early that morning, which was quite unusual. At first I thought something bad had happened with a family member, but he quickly dismissed any tragedy. He proceeded to tell me that someone I knew had been arrested for breaking the law. That same person had tried to bring harm to me and my business just one year before. At the time, I wanted to take justice into my own hands, but God clearly told me to forgive and leave it to him. And so I did. Rather than seeking revenge, I chose to trust God and forgive my enemy.
Revenge. The desire to avenge the wrong done to us or someone we love is as old as humanity. Our first inclination when someone hurts us is to reciprocate. Whether we initiate the counterattack or wish that some harm befall the person who wronged us, our flesh desires for revenge. Our lips may silence, we may even speak of forgiveness, but if we are honest with ourselves, deep down inside, our first inclination is to wish for justice. That’s a natural instinct. However, this predisposition, engrained on the very fiber of our fleshly nature, if not controlled, can guide all our affairs and destroy our future.
There are more than spiritual implications when we try to fulfill the “eye for an eye” law. Some of the most miserable people I know live in bondage to some hurt in their past. They relish talking about the person who wronged them, secretly wishing that somehow the evil bestowed upon them would turn around and strike their enemy. On the other hand, some of the truly happiest, most fulfilled people walking on planet Earth are those who forgive their enemies, wish them no evil and even pray for them.
Why is that? I believe the answer is pretty simple and yet, profound: Those who forgive become detached from the power of their past. When we choose to pray for our enemies and forgive those who wrong us, we break from the chains that keep us tied to our past hurts. We become free to accept the good things that our present brings. On the other hand, revenge is like a snowball plunged from a mountain top – its effects become bigger, its destruction wider.
There is no natural recipe for forgiving others. Forgiveness is not natural. I don’t believe that we can do it on our own. There is a difference between choosing not to think about an issue, avoiding the person who hurt us and actually forgiving them to the point that you wish no ill towards them. Avoiding is not forgiving. Avoiding is like putting fresh paint on a termite-damaged wall. It’s just a matter of time before the destruction surfaces again.
If there is a person in your life that stirs up feelings of revenge and unforgiveness, ask God to help you forgive. There is freedom and healing in giving our hurts and sorrows over to God, trusting him to be our justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “That old law about an ‘eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.” Indeed it is. Forgiveness is the choice of a heart that seeks peace and sews love. Its fruit is much sweeter than revenge.