By Robert Halsey Pine
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21 NRSV).
Like our Father, we should first forgive the unforgivable. This is not to say that we should not defend ourselves, but that we not take on the evil nature of those who attack us. We should leave judgement to God. The Psalms are full of appeals to God for protection from the enemy and the wicked. The psalmist in Psalm 125 (NRSV) says in closing, “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts. But those who turn aside to their own crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers.”
St. Paul’s words don’t exactly sound like, “an eye for an eye”. But he tells us that loving our enemies is like heaping hot coals upon their heads. We are called to love our enemy so as to effect a change in that person for God. Our prayers will impact our enemies and those that deal in wickedness whether they like it or not. Prayer is more powerful than any weapon devised by man. Prayer heals, forgives, thanks, defends, protects, encourages, supports, blesses, enlightens and more.
In my prison ministry experiences I have become acquainted with a man who has spent the better part of his 70 years in prisons all over the country. Way back when he was a young man his family was attacked by members of another family. Three of his family members were killed. He then went to the other family and was involved in the murder of seven members of that family. His action was costly. Even when he has been out of prison, he has not been able to stay straight long enough to keep on the outside. He is very reflective in his advancing years. His health is not good. He can teach us something about repaying evil for evil.
Evil has a way of enticing us in. There is a pull. There is a sense that we must equalize situations by returning like kind. We think that we must prove something. A co-worker once offended me. Instead of resisting the temptation to get back, I compounded the problem by letting the devil coax me into setting the record straight with the person. I am quite sure that I did not improve the situation with my straightening out sermon. Now I have two things to overcome instead of one. Silence would have been better.
Robert Halsey Pine was born at Newark, Ohio in 1943. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and completed the program of Theological Education by Extension: Education for Ministry, School of Theology, the University of the South.