Replacing Revenge

Replacing Revenge

Every fall I have my high school students read the short story “The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson. The story illustrates what happens to a woman who chooses to do evil. The protagonist of the story is Miss Adela Strangeworth.

When Miss Strangeworth walks down Main Street, everyone waves to her and speaks. She is respected and revered for many reasons. She brings the town historical and aesthetic pride through her family name and estate. Her house, known as the oldest and most beautiful around, is surrounded by her prized roses. So prized by her, in fact, that she refuses to share them with others, even when asked. The townspeople don’t mind.

But Miss Strangeworth has a secret. She writes anonymous and hurtful letters to those in her town to alert the townspeople of possible evil happening around them.

The letters Miss Strangeworth writes are harsh, unchecked, rude, and never based on fact. Each year my students and I are appalled by the hurtful words she puts down on paper.

As the story nears its climax, Miss Strangeworth’s letter-writing is discovered and revenge is sought by those in her little town.  She wakes up one morning to an anonymous letter that reads, “Look out at what used to be your roses.” All her beloved roses were destroyed, and the story ends with tears rolling down her face.

I always feel a twinge of remorse for Miss Adela Strangeworth. Sure, what she did was wrong, but was the revenge warranted? Were the townspeople justified in damaging the property of an old woman and killing the roses she loved?

The pity I feel comes from knowing I have made similar mistakes.

At times I have been vengeful and behaved like the townspeople. When someone said something hurtful, when the actions of others caused me pain, when I was left out, I retaliated with hurtful words and glaring stares meant to wound. In seeking retribution, I behaved as badly as those who hurt me. {Tweet This}

The times I did this now make me cringe. I was immature, a babe in Christ, and not seeking God’s wisdom as I should have.

Had I gone to God’s Word before enacting my own revenge, I would have found Paul’s advice in Romans 12:19-21, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary:’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

These verses make it clear, revenge is God’s and not ours. In fact, we are to show our enemy kindness, and “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Now, don’t mistake verse 19 as telling you to place burning coals on one’s head who has made you mad. That’s not quite the approach we are going for. What does this part of the verse mean?

Albert Barnes, an American theologian, gives insight, “Burning coals heaped on a man’s head would be expressive of intense agony. So the apostle says that the “effect” of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance.To make your enemy heap burning coals on his head means you have driven him to repentance through your own acts of humbleness.”

1.pngWe are to overcome evil with good. Our goodness can lead evil to repent. {Tweet This}

My friends, the old saying “revenge is sweet” only rings true for one who has exchanged God’s truth for a fleeting moment of satisfaction. {Tweet This} I know this because I have been there, and I wish I could take it back. That moment of satisfaction soon faded when I realized it didn’t take away the feeling of hurt I still carried. And the sweet moment turned sour when I discovered it was not God’s will for me to enact my own revenge.

Revenge is God’s. It’s His job. Not ours. {Tweet This}

Our job is to overcome evil with good.

How do we go about overcoming evil with good?

  1. Start by asking God’s forgiveness for retaliation we have given.(1 John 1:9)
  2. Forgive those that have wronged you. (Mark 11:25)
  3. Stop seeking revenge. (Romans 12:19-21)
  4. Pray and read God’s Word. It will guide us. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

By doing these things, He will help us to do our job, while we leave Him to do His. God takes the major responsibility of judgement, punishment, and revenge off of us and bares it instead. What a relief!

So, while Shirley Jackson writes a compelling story, I wish the ending were different. But Miss Strangeworth chose her actions, and the townspeople chose theirs. All we can do is make sure that as our own stories continue to be written, we leave out revenge and replace it with good.

Would you like some scripture to guide your prayers and thoughts on revenge? I have shared a few verses I use! Click here for a free printable PDF of  scripture on revenge!

This post edited by the wonderful Jennifer Hacker, who is continually helping me become a better writer. She is the founder of The Center for Help and Hope. Check it out!

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