The Point of Revenge – a lesson from The Princess Bride and the Apostle Paul

Have you ever been bent on revenge? Some people would tell you to take your time and not rush into it. Not so you’ll think better of your plans but so you can carry them out in a more satisfying way. After all, they say:

Revenge is a dish best served cold. French Proverb.

Others will caution against it, telling you that when it comes to revenge no one wins:

Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves. Chinese Proverb.

I started thinking of this because of an interview with Mandy Patinkin about the role of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. He realizes that fans of the film would probably say that his best line is “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” But Patinkin’s favorite Inigo line is later in the film, when Wesley is passing on the Dread Pirate Roberts job to Inigo. Inigo has had one purpose in life, and now that he has avenged his father he is at a loss. Patinkin says:

For me it’s the most potent line in the whole film. And that line is: “I have been in the revenge business so long. Now that it’s over I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.” And I love that line … because the purpose of revenge, in my personal opinion, is completely worthless and pointless.

In this short clip Patinkin explains that this line didn’t become his favorite until a couple decades after he made the film:

Room for Revenge?

Does that mean there is no room for revenge? It depends on what you mean by vengeance and revenge. First and foremost, the Bible says that while there is a place for vengeance, that place is not with you:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19.)

Can we really leave it to God, though? Sure. As Abraham observed:

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25.)

God will always do what’s right. Yet under the New Covenant, God reveals his rightness through kindness. The letter that tells the Roman Christians to leave room for God’s wrath also tells them not to judge others for their sins because God desires repentance rather than condemnation:

[A]t whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1, 4.)

You might wonder if God really does keep an eye on everything that needs to be fixed, corrected, avenged. Rest assured, there is nothing hidden from God and he will take care of it all:

He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. (1 Corinthians 4:5.)

But one thing you are not promised is that God will take care of it in the way you expect. Judgment under God is not like our worldly judgment.

If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (John 12:47.)

Jesus said that he will not judge the one who rejects him? Is there any judgment at all, then? Yes, but it comes from a source the religious leaders of his time might not have expected. Jesus went on to explain:

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. (John 12:48.)

The condemnation comes by the words Jesus has spoken. This is the same mechanism of judgment (or victory, or vengeance, or whatever you want to call it) that John saw in his visions.

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet … . The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse. (Revelation 19:19-21.)

Jesus is the rider on the horse, and the army with him are his people. But the army does not fight, nor does Jesus. Instead, he opens his mouth and the sword – his word – defeats the enemy. That’s how God wins. Just as when he created everything by merely speaking them into existence (Genesis 1), he prevails in the end by opening his mouth and speaking.

What does it mean, though, that people are slayed by God’s word? I don’t know, but the vengeance of God is not like our attempts to get revenge on someone. If someone refuses Jesus their condemnation comes not from God but from themselves.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:17.)

So Mandy Patinkin is right. If we try to make revenge the purpose for anything we do, whether for a lifetime or a mere moment, it is worthless.

Inigo Revenge

Besides, God has other plans:

The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9.)

He acts so as to bring people to himself.


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19 Responses to The Point of Revenge – a lesson from The Princess Bride and the Apostle Paul

  1. Jeannie says:

    Lots of food for thought here, Tim: a group I’m part of was just discussing God’s judgment the other day and there were a lot of opinions thrown around, including the idea (made famous on the Chick tracts that terrified me as a kid) that judgment will include having basically a movie of our life shown so that our good & bad deeds would be counted up. I appreciate how you’ve linked the idea of vengeance and judgment and how God’s Word is what defeats the enemy, just as it was his Word who created the world. As I said, lots to think about!

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    “…the purpose of revenge, in my personal opinion, is completely worthless and pointless.”
    “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” — Deuteronomy 32:35
    Says it all.

  3. James says:

    In church on Sunday evening, the talk was on anger. In the end I just had to walk out. I didn’t discover I could be angry until shortly after I got married. I had known deep down that I didn’t want to marry this woman, but somehow I couldn’t face telling her, as i would then appear to be the nasty guy, and I thought that somehow God would see us right. It hasn’t happened. 20 years later I am still angry….deeply angry, deep inside, not the kind of anger that bursts out, but the kind that is buried deep like an unerupted volcano

    • Tim says:

      James, I am sure you aren’t looking for advice, and frankly I don’t have any. But I do have prayers and they’re yours.

      • James says:

        Thank you, Tim, for replying. You are right, even though my comments were not really on the point of your article.

        I have been there too, though, but that’s a different story. But, I have had that text continually in my head, “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”

        But it all feels like wishful thinking….

        After the Sunday service, I told myself I wouldn’t go to church any more.

        Interestingly, over the last few years, I have developed the habit of doing morning readings….and I have never in my life had such a long sustained period of quiet times. But i’ve given up on church…’s not anger or rebellion, more a kind of feeling of hopeless pointlessness.

        • Tim says:

          I hope you are finding fellowship with believers in some way, James.

        • Pastor Bob says:

          If I may add:
          This is a tough one, and prayers as well.
          There are many steps to take, the first you have made, recognition.
          The next is equally important, what will you do with this? Eventually human contact will help will be needed, but …. for now, keep reading, and seeking Him. Counselors do not “cure” nor do medical doctors. These professionals simply help the process that God has already already designed in us.
          He is the source. Please trust Him -even more.

    • Lynn Everest says:

      Like Tim, I have no particular advice other than concern and prayer. But it does beg a couple questions, like, how does someone get in the predicament of marrying a woman they don’t want to marry? And is it possible, that because of how you feel, she may feel somewhat the same thing? And if yes, then possibly, there is a meeting ground perhaps…a place to start the sorting out process with God.

      God bless you in every way and your wife…and possibly your children, if you have them – one of them may even have been the impetus of your initial, strained choice (?), and now, that child is grown maybe. A good time to regroup, reboot…maybe save and mold your marriage into something more divine. Or not. I speak for myself here as well. God and I are saving mine, but it might have gone differently if I didn’t want him in the first place, which I did. And now, I still do, through God’s grace.

      Hard choices and difficult working-throughs. Best experienced with God and your wife close at hand and heart perhaps. The rest of your life, you’re still young, is not meant to be a burden endured, though sacrifices may be called for. Good hope to you brother.

  4. Bill M says:

    Thanks for some additional insight on a subject I so recently had to deal with. I note you referenced Romans 12. A year ago coming off a church abuse ordeal and finally finding the ability to pray again, the phrase came to me:
    “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
    That became the key for me to unlock Romans 12 which turned out to be about anything but revenge and harboring ill will. I have since posted verses 3 through 21 as a reminder to myself, I especially like the old Good News bible translation of it.
    “Love must be completely sincere. Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good. Love one another warmly as Christians, and be eager to show respect for one another.”

  5. Grainne says:

    Be careful…. revenge coming from the heart to rejoice in the destruction of a wicked perpetrator of sexual crime is wrong, but a desire to see justice done is not. It is sometimes difficult to keep motives pure, but ‘leaving it to the Lord’ can have devastating results. The Lord desires to see everyone come to repentance, but an obdurate offender, especially one who is a ‘respected’ church leader, must be confronted, and must take the full penalty for the crime. We are Christ’s Body and must defend His reputation while all the time praying for His grace to long for the repentance of the perpetrator and for our own hearts to be cleansed of vengeful motives.

  6. julielelder says:

    I will admit to thoughts of revenge for someone if they hurt my kids—I imagine truly awful things. But honestly, would I want God to carry out on me someone else’s vengeful thoughts of me? No, I want God to continue in kindness. If I don’t want God to drown me head first in a toilet I probably shouldn’t want him to do that to somebody else, no matter how angry they’ve made me…. darn it.

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