Have you ever noticed that what society tells us to do and what God tells us to do are oftentimes at odds? I suppose that’s because society at large and God the Almighty have quite different beliefs about people, about our time and purpose here on Earth, and about what we should truly value while we are here.
I was thinking the other day about Matthew 5:43-47, where God tells us to love our enemies. Imagine society telling us to do such a thing! If anything, society tells us that it’s hard enough to love the people we love, let alone embrace the concept of loving someone we dislike or who has harmed us in some way.
But God knows that hatred, revenge, and bitterness over past hurts only hurts us further. One of my favorite quotes is: Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. The meaning behind that is powerful. When we seek revenge or harbor feelings of resentment, the only person we hurt is ourselves, not the person we’ve gone after. Knowing that, God has told us what He knows is best for us – “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
He doesn’t stop there. God references loving your enemies several times throughout the Bible. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil;’ wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” He makes it exceedingly clear here that there is no place for revenge in a Christian’s life.
You may be nodding your head, and saying, “Well, of course!” But before you exonerate yourself from committing revenge, understand that there are many levels and forms beyond the obvious. You may not be actively looking for overt ways to pay someone back, but ask yourself if your actions truly are pure or if they have some ulterior motive.
Revenge can be subtle. It can be posting glowingly happy photos on Facebook knowing that your very unhappy former friend will see them and be envious. It could be excluding a family member from a gathering and then acting like it was a mere oversight when confronted. It could be allowing people to speak misinformation about an enemy and neglecting to share the truth. Revenge is revenge, no matter how it’s couched or how subtly it might play out.
It’s pretty hard to do what God asks of us, to pray for those who have persecuted us, but if it were easy, He wouldn’t have to ask, would he? He knows that society does not teach this principle. Instead, it teaches how to protect yourself from others to the point that self-care has taken on a whole new meaning. Nowadays, self-care looks more like self-indulgence and plain old selfishness. We commit a lot of sins under the guise of self-care, one of which is treating others poorly. We claim that it’s okay that we’ve shut a person out because we have to protect ourselves. And sometimes that’s true, with truly toxic people who have proven themselves, again and again, to cause you harm.
But sometimes someone wrongs us once, and that’s it. We’re done. We seethe in our self-righteousness and talk about how right we are and how wrong they are, and when it’s all said and done, we’re more miserable than they are. But if we do what God instructs and actually pray for our enemies, our hearts go from bitterness to an attempt to understand or at least accept. And once we understand or accept our inability to change another person, a huge weight is lifted off our shoulders. We free ourselves from the chains of resentment.
Proverbs 16:7 says, “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.” God tells us that when we pray for those who have wronged us, when we let go of thoughts of even quiet revenge, God takes care of us. We become happier people, we focus on what is important, and we realize, yet again, that in a battle between society’s morals and God’s, God always wins.
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