Thursday, November 04, 2010

Vengeance: Who's Going to Pay for This?

This afternoon I heard a homily on forgiveness. Because my children were with me and there were noses to wipe and pieces of paper to retrieve and little chats to put a stop to, I was not completely glued to every word that came forth from Father's mouth. But my attention was caught by his last point, which concerned how to differentiate forgiveness from emotional or feeling-based responses. At times, people think that if they have any negative feelings toward a person, they must not have forgiven. Or, they think that forgiveness requires one to like an individual that one finds unpleasant. Father's point was that you can know you have forgiven when a) you do not seek revenge and b) you pray for the person.

I'm not sure why that struck me so, but it did. I don't resonate much with the word vengeance. (Though it reminds me of a video by Rich Mullins where he says "I know the Bible says 'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord, but I just want to be about the Lord's business!") What I resonate with  -- no, resonate is not the right word here. Resonate has too positive a quality to it. What I equate with vengeance is the feeling that somebody has to pay for this. And that somebody, somewhere in my gut, always seems to be me. There's something very wrong with that. And I think at heart, fixing it has a root in the need to properly forgive.

Really, not being vengeful is a matter of allowing justice to be carried out by the Lord. Entrusting injustices to Him. What is vengeance, after all? Is it not the idea that I will do something to replace what has been stolen from me, or from someone? And that someone that is done is generally another violation, another violence. Blame, a grudge, a punishment, a torment. A price. It is me declaring that I have the superior oversight of objective reality, and I know what a sin costs, and I know how to extract what it takes to heal.

In other words, I'm God; I'll handle it.

But in my heart, my own personal version of this, has never been really to unleash purposefully hateful or violent acts toward another, to get even. It has been to inflict them on myself. Maybe this shows an intuition of reparation or intercession, but it still really boils down to I'm God; I'll handle it.

And then there's when I see someone who can do this better than I can. Someone who feels the need to say "excuse me" when another person burps. The first person to stop to pick up things others have dropped. I'm sure it is possible for someone to do that because their heart is full of generosity. But I see an ability to say You've just made a mess in my life. This is really an injustice. Someone has to pay, and it has to be me. I have to absorb your fault. Not "allow me to help you" but "I have to."

In other words: God is not doing His job. I have to.

Nuances, nuances! There is such a difference between being motivated by the love to say "I would do anything to make you happy," and "I hate how this pain has disrupted my life, but I want to avoid the complication of blaming or wanting to destroy another (maybe because it doesn't make me look so good), so I'll take the vengeance inside myself, do the violence to myself, and try to make myself happy by letting you avoid pain."

Or, it could just be a child's magical thinking inside an adult psyche: if I pinch myself until I hurt, I can take away the hurt I see going on around me. The mind has habits, and this is why St. Paul admonishes us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

God alone is my Savior, and God alone is the Savior of the hurting person next to me. If I am to give anything at all to the hurting person next to me, it must come from God. Or perhaps better yet, if that hurting person next to me is to receive something that will heal her, it must come from God. I could heap all sorts of things on all sorts of people, and it might only clog them off or confuse them from receiving from God. It's not that I need fear about giving from out of my heart, but I do need love to motivate me in all things, never a twisted sense that I have to pay for this.

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