My thirst for revenge

Today’s lectionary readings (via The Presbyterian Mission Agency) include Habbakuk 3:1-18. I would encourage you to read the whole chapter but I wanted to highlight the last few verses. 

16I hear, and I tremble within;
my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
and my steps tremble beneath me.
I wait quietly for the day of calamity
to come upon the people who attack us.
17Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.


It’s quite easy to skip to the end of this chapter and hear the cry of faith and ignore all that has come before. That tends to be the way such passages are read, “things suck, but I’m still gonna praise God”. That seems a disservice to the rest of the chapter and the very real circumstances that make one cry out to God in the first places. Verses 16-17 bring us a little closer to reality: there is no food, I am sick, I am scared…

… and I’m waiting for those who have done this to me to get theirs. Yep, that’s actually the bulk of the chapter. It’s a revenge fantasy. It’s Tarentino-esque. The author wishes for plagues upon their enemy, desires to see nature rise up in result against those who have done so much damage and destruction. Our prophet longs to hear the cries of their enemies from underneath the mighty foot of God.

Now we’re talking! The prophetic imagination is often a gruesome place, filled with violence and retribution. God is the avenger looking for payback, the momma bear who is after those who have hurt her cubs. We like this God, especially when we can easily make the case for being the victim. We like it because when we see threats to our safety, we can imagine ourselves as God’s instrument of wrath and the violence becomes a work of righteousness.

Deep down, though, we know that the misery of those who hurt us will bring us no lasting joy. Revenge can’t bring back that which has been lost. It is a temporary balm at best. So often we think that the pain of those that have hurt us validates our own righteousness when in fact it only confirms that pain comes to everyone’s door eventually. Jesus teaches us to love our enemy, and pray for those who have hurt us. That doesn’t mean maintaining relationship, but it does mean giving up the desire to see them harmed, even if we truly believe they have it coming to them.

I repent that in the darkness of my own soul, there are those whom I desire to see suffer for both slights real and imagined. It pains me that I cannot forgive as I ought, that I cannot love as I ought. I pray in this moment that those who have hurt me (either in reality or in my perception) would know no harm. Beyond that I pray for the desire to actually mean that prayer when I pray it.



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