…vengeance is no medicine…

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Today I find myself as sick as I’ve been in memory. Chills, heavy joint aches, the feeling that some nefarious creature slid down my throat on a piece of steel-wool and dropped a phosphorus grenade in my chest last night while I tossed and turned, etc…these are my companions today. Add to that the early morning wake up call of my son that made sure neither my wife nor I got to sleep past 6am, and now I’m at work walking around like the zombie of George Burns, trying to finish things so I can go climb back into bed.

Granted, that was part whine session, but part illustration as well. In my reading this morning, I came to the incredibly encouraging account of Dinah (Genesis 34 – go read it, its worth it if you are unfamiliar with the chapter). Jacob’s daughter was raped (or at least coerced into something less than fully consensual sex), and her brothers brought torment and then death in a chapter that plays out more like a story line from “Game of Thrones” than the Holy Bible.

The last few verses in the chapter are what were quoted above and it struck me this morning, as I tried to read between my own hacks and moans, that this business of vengeance, from the limited power that people possess, is a foolish notion, and a dangerous one in the long run. I completely understand what was going on with Jacob’s sons. I can comprehend the justification of malice and the logic of, what seemed to be, justice here. Being a father of a little girl, I can only imagine what kind of emotions and ideas that would boil inside my head if she was ever treated the way Dinah was in the text. There is a part of me that would be able to easily come to terms, in Carl Lee Haley fashion, with vigilante retribution. But that isn’t the only perspective that can be taken here.

I have to wonder, considering what I’ve seen, experienced, and read about human nature and behavior, if this brand of “justice” ever really brings balance. The image that we hold of justice in some of our national architecture is that of a woman with a blindfold on holding a set of scales. I see in that image a couple of obvious things, such as the tendency toward compassion that justice should take as is implied by a female representative. I also see the undeniable determination to see only the facts of the situation and not the accused or accuser; there is an acknowledgement that even the mechanism of justice, the people that carry that responsibility, are themselves flawed and prone to injustice. I also see that justice, at it’s central most place, is a quest for balance. It is a determination by civilization to do their dead-level best to bring order to a disordered world.

All of this, brings me to wonder if retributive justice, like that levied by Rueben, Levi, and the rest of Jacob’s boys, is even capable of bringing that “leveling” that is so desperately needed. My sickness today (and for the last three days, waaah, waaah, waaah) reminds me that there is no hurt that is “fixed” by another’s hurt. I look at my wife, who has avoided this current strain of germ in our house, and I cannot fathom a mentality that would say, “I’d feel a whole lot better if she’d get sick too…finally, then things would be even…justice would prevail if we were ALL sick!” That is the mindset of a fool. Healing doesn’t come through the perpetuation of sickness, and justice doesn’t come through the perpetuation of violence.

I’m compelled by the thought that, in the aftermath of this blood bath, once the “offenders” had felt the wrath of Jacob’s sons, did Dinah feel any less abused? Did she feel any twinge of purity creep back into her mind, body, or heart? Do we, in our gun-toting, spirit of Texas (no offense to Texans intended) self-righteousness really believe that Dinah, upon hearing about the expiration of her violator, felt suddenly less raped? More foolish thinking.

God alone stands in the place of vengeance. He even explicitly states this in the Bible, “vengeance is MINE says the Lord”. And I fully believe that He uses armies, police, and any other civil brigade He deems appropriate to bring some measure of order to the injustice of our sinful world (Romans 13 is clear that He uses these methods as His “arm” on the earth). For you Republicans, let me state clearly: I am not a pacifist, I am not anti-second-ammendment, I am not prone to find myself sitting around bonfires, smoking kale and asparagus, keeping my fingers crossed for the one big moment when everyone will love each other and, with Coca-Colas in hand, we’ll all “Christian sidehug” and start singing. I don’t believe that there will be a day when women of the world will unite to burn bras and burkas, nor when the men will get together to share a wholesome, non-alcoholic beer and laugh about how stupid we all were “once upon a time”. This is not the utopian view that I hold for eternity; that seems more like a climate controlled version of hell as I continue to think about it.

What I do believe, on some level, is this: to balance out injustice, for the Christian, the believer in Jesus Christ, is to walk the pathway of Jesus Himself. It is not to slap down those who are cheating the people (a la Zacheauss), it is to show such surprising compassion that they are jolted from the cold shell of their own hate and awakened to the One who brought the ultimate balance to the world, the crucified Christ. Then maybe, just maybe, they will come down out of their trees and eat with us and begin to start their own work of reconciliation.

This sickness in my body will likely just have to run its course, and I understand that, no matter how little I like it. But there is a different diagnosis for the ills of Creation. Paul makes one of the most idealistic, utopian, hippie-esque, guns-into-plowshares statements in the New Testament at the end of Romans 12. He is unapologetic and unashamed at the profound naivety which which he is likely to be branded by most. He is not concerned with defending this statement very specifically, as he seems to believe it stands alone. He offers it as a command, but perhaps more of a challenge. Reminiscent of the disciple who doubted Jesus’ credentials and was implored, “come and see”, Paul offers this statement with a propositional air, “give it a try.” He cries out to us that the only true way to successfully deal with injustice, for us as individuals, is to forgive and to love. Because friends, we receive healing when we become agents of healing.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 ESV)

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