I just finished watching a show titled ‘Revenge’. David Clarke is framed by his mistress and her husband for laundering money to terrorists, who crashed a plane. While in prison, he is murdered. His daughter, Amanda, after spending her childhood in a juvenile detention facility, gets out and moves back home with the intention of avenging her father’s death. One by one the people involved lose their lives, property and livelihood. She goes after them ruthlessly, not letting anything, especially not the accepted rules of morality stand in her way.
In the end, she discovers evidence that could exonerate her father and there is a moment when it all seems to have ended well, the evidence was on its way to court along with witnesses and those who hurt her father were finally going to pay. It all came together in that moment for me. Up till that point, I had been put off by her demeanor. But at that moment, I felt a sense of peace and closure for her. She had been seriously wrong. Her father was framed and murdered. Her life was stolen from her and the culprits lived in peace and security while her father’s name was in ruins. It was a gaping hole in the harmony of creation, something that had to be made right. I could understand how much it hurt her and I felt the peace that comes from knowing that what was wrong is now as right as it could possibly be made.
Think about it: If a child steals an apple from another, we make her give it back. She also has to apologize at least. She might have to give back more than she took in the first place. The point is to right the wrong that has been done to another. She gives back what she took because it is not hers and she apologizes and gives back some more to heal the one who has been hurt, affirming her worth. It would be cruel to demand that the victim just forget the incident. It would give her no sense of closure. Amanda’s life was stolen from her and she deserved to be avenged. What she did not deserve was to be forever looked upon as the daughter of a terrorist.
But there are some things that cannot be given back. When a man murders another, we cannot demand that he give back the life he stole but that does not exonerate him. The need to right the wrong that has been done is still there. The victim’s family should not be treated as if they do not matter, ignored and asked to forget that they have been violated. We cannot give them back what they lost, but we can give them justice. We can take from the murderer, what he took from their loved one.
Think of it as a scale. On one side, there is the life of a man and on the other, the life of his murderer. The scale is balanced. When the man is killed, he is removed from the scale and it tips in favor of his killer. Justice is the act of re-balancing that scale (at least). If his life could be brought back, we would do that. But since we cannot add to the lighter side of the scale, we can remove from the heavier side. We can do to the murderer, what he did to the other man.
Justice, or vengeance, whichever you choose to call it, is something that those who have been wrong need. I can say from experience that it is impossible to go on with your life when you have been terribly wronged and no one tries to right that wrong. The woman who demands that her son’s murderer be brought to justice is not an evil, sadistic person. She is merely asking for closure so she can have her life back. She is asking the community not to act as if her son’s life and her well-being are of no value. Justice, therefore, is something that the strong do for the weak and violated. It is an act of mercy.
What about Forgiveness?
Like justice, forgiveness is also a virtue. However, forgiveness is not incompatible with recognizing that someone has done something that should not be done. Nor does it take away the need for restitution. Anyone can see the folly of asking a child whose toy was stolen to simply forgive the thief while letting the culprit go free. Such acts would destroy our society. However, once restitution has been made, forgiveness is the act of absolving the criminal from any further ill will. It is as much for the victim as it is for the wrongdoer. As Amanda can testify and most people should know, holding grudges eats you up. I’ve been told that it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I’m not sure about that, but I do know that it usually hurts you more than it hurts them. It turns you into a person you don’t know – a person who is bitter and perhaps even capable of terrible things. It hurts your ability to commune with others.
‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay’, says the Lord
Not everyone can get justice. Some killers will never be caught. Some wrongdoers cannot be made to pay for their wrongs. Some are wrongly let go by human courts. We do not often have the right to take justice into our own hands. I cannot kill a man because he murdered my family. I do not have that power. The government does and God does. For that reason, when those in power fail, a lot of people keep hurting, the wrongs done to them never righted. God has promised to execute justice for those wronged. For us, that promise is salvation. It keeps you from suffering the fate of the hopeless.
Don’t misunderstand me. I have no problem with trying to rehabilitate wrongdoers. I applaud it. I simply detest the idea that it should replace the needs of the wronged. That is injustice.
Ever[y] authentic human being should scream in outrage at crimes against the elderly, at vandalism of the poor, at oppression of the disadvantaged, at domestic violence, at greed and power-oriented oppression and marginalization, at child abuse (and at the child sacrifice of the false religions Israel adopted from her neighbors!), at institutional hypocrisy that remains arrogantly insensitive to the real needs of real people…Moral outrage by moral agents (us) at moral atrocities is a mark of moral authenticity-why would we expect the Author of moral agents to be ‘less moral’ than we?[…]
God’s emotional response of wrath, anger, outrage is the only sane, appropriate, and morally authentic one. – Glenn Miller