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.
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.