Monday, January 2, 2012

Of Revenge

The notable knight, Sir Francis Bacon, and renowned scientist, wrote over thirty essays; one of which I recently read and found quite identical to my own beliefs on the subject. Below is his essay, OF REVENGE:

"Revenge is a kind of wild justice; which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. For as for the first wrong, it doth but offend the law; but the revenge of that wrong, putteth the law out of office. Certainly, in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over, he is superior; for it is a prince's part to pardon. And Solomon, I am sure, saith, ‘It is the glory of a man, to pass by an offense. That which is past is gone, and irrevocable; and wise men have enough to do, with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves that labor in past matters. There is no man doth a wrong, for the wrong's sake; but thereby to purchase himself profit, or pleasure, or honor, or the like. Therefore why should I be angry with a man, for loving himself better than me? And if any man should do wrong, merely out of ill-nature, why, yet it is but like the thorn or briar, which prick and scratch, because they can do no other. The most tolerable sort of revenge, is for those wrongs which there is no law to remedy; but then let a man take heed, the revenge be such as there is no law to punish; else a man's enemy is still before hand, and it is two for one. Some, when they take revenge, are desirous, the party should know, whence it cometh. This is the more generous. For the delight seemeth to be, not so much in doing the hurt, as in making the party repent. But base and crafty cowards, are like the arrow that flieth in the dark. Cosmus, duke of Florence, had a desperate saying against perfidious or neglecting friends, as if those wrongs were unpardonable; You shall read (saith he) that we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read, that we are commanded to forgive our friends. But yet the spirit of Job was in a better tune: Shall we (saith he) take good at God's hands, and not be content to take evil also? And so of friends in a proportion. This is certain, that a man that studieth revenge, keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal, and do well. Public revenges are for the most part fortunate; as that for the death of Caesar; for the death of Pertinax; for the death of Henry the Third of France; and many more. But in private revenges, it is not so. Nay rather, vindictive persons live the life of witches; who, as they are mischievous, so end they unfortunate.”

I will first talk about what Bacon said according to my interpretation and what I think about it, and then what I think on the matter as a whole. revenge, according to Bacon, ‘is a wild kind of justice’ and ‘puts the law out of office’. Revenge is a selfish, arrogant way of making the other feel your anger, a striking back in pride. As Bacon wisely said, ‘Solomon, I am sure, saith ‘it is a glory of a man to pass by an offense’. Wise men have enough to trouble about with the future and the present to also busy themselves with past grievances and offenses which are entirely irrevocable, to take the words from Bacon’s own mouth. Bacon also says that the ‘most tolerable’ sort of revenge is that kind which there is no law to punish and also that, “public revenge is the most fortunate…”

When I think of revenge I always think of it being a way to get even, to show yourself as prideful in not letting a grievance against you pass. For when we try to get even, we are stooping lower than the level of the person who offended us. Now, I’m talking about simple revenge, as in a joke, or losing a game, or something that humiliated you etc. But what about the bigger things, murder, theft, things which are serious, and need judgment? What do you do then, things against your family? Not necessarily against your pride? I have talked with people who think revenge is a necessity, a way to bring justice upon the heads of those who committed a crime against you. These people would kill any person who killed a family member or loved one and what I find worse, in that situation they would overpass what God said about revenge, ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.’

Leviticus 19:18
You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

Romans 12:19
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.

These are just a few of the verses in the bible about vengeance. From these verses I get the interpretation that vengeance is God’s responsibility and that, as Romans says, we must ‘leave room for the wrath of God.’ When people start taking the law into their own hands, chaos reigns. What I find unbelievable is that these people I talk to will not bow to the will of God, as written clearly in His Word. Can we claim His Name if we won’t listen to his commandments? Do we doubt God’s ability to give justice and to uphold our cause?

Here I’ll give you an example of a case which, by his writings, seems to us done out of pure motives. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a devout Christian, attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler during WW II. Dietrich was caught and executed, firm to the last in his Christian beliefs and the morality of his decision. I have not read a biography of his life but this is the main premise. Dietrich believed that Hitler had to be stopped. He believed that he was going to kill the murderer of six million Jews. Dietrich failed. I wonder why? As humans we can’t make the decision why he failed, in fact, it’s not even right to try to judge him at all. What I thought when I heard about it, was, why did he fail? And why was Hitler allowed to go on for so long? I wondered why God didn’t allow Dietrich to carry out his plans. We don’t know Dietrich’s motives and we can’t point fingers at what he did, but this got me thinking, you know, many people tried to kill Hitler, none of them succeeded. Why? I think this is an example of God taking his own revenge. He will judge every person in the end, whether we did it on earth or not and we don’t want to be judged for judging others on earth.

Sometimes God uses other people to execute justice and revenge, as in this passage, “Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’S vengeance on Midian.”

Here is a verse which clearly states that the Israelites were used by God to execute his justice. Obviously, man is often used to execute justice. I mean, what do governments do? We have a legal justice system for punishing criminals. I won’t get into the complicated theories of government responsibility and why they are just the same as us, but this is my point; we shouldn’t take justice into our own hands. By that I mean that it is not moral or right for us to go looking for the criminal. It’s one thing to defend yourself or your family but after the wrong is done and you go looking for the criminal, it becomes different. Did you notice that I said ‘looking for’? This is an important point. When you want to take vengeful action, ask yourself this, “am I seriously just about to go looking for the person who did this to me?” Sometimes being right isn’t enough, you have to let things go, ‘pass by an offense’ and for the bigger things you have to trust that God will judge them and provide justice. This is a bit vague and you may not exactly get my point. My point is what Bacon said in his essay, “It is the glory of a man to pass by an offense.’ That which is past is gone and irrevocable, and wise men have enough to do with things present and to come; therefore they do but trifle with themselves that labor in the past matters.” In my opinion, we shouldn’t go looking for someone who has done us wrong. The wrong is done, it’s ‘irrevocable’. Nothing we can do will change it and if we are seriously going out looking for someone who did us wrong, most of the time it’s out of revenge. We cloak it with words like ‘justice; ‘moral punishment etc. We need to realize that yes, maybe that person deserves to be killed, maybe it would be just and moral punishment but who says we decide? God gives life, cursed be the man who takes it away needlessly. “God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns?” (Romans 8) Now don’t think that I’m saying that justice should always be left to God and the government, no way! God has placed a government among men to execute His justice, HIS justice, not ours. We should realize that the government and all of mankind is on earth to glorify Him and we are just his tools for establishing justice.

To be continued...


  1. I enjoyed reading your article and found it thought provoking. I enjoyed how you not only discussed the essay but also the Scriptures related to revenge. And you asked great questions on many different topics from Bonhoeffer to personal motives. I think asking questions is so important and you did this well!