Monday, May 8, 2023

Vengeance on the Playground

Suggested Reading: Romans 12:14-21

As a substitute teacher, I had much more opportunity to work with young elementary students than I ever thought I wanted. One of the things that amazes me is the variety of personalities and the different ways in which those young children respond to injustices. Some children, as soon as another child looks at them wrong, run to an adult to tattle and get their would be assailant in trouble. Other children, whether because they are stronger or simply stronger willed, decide to deal with it themselves and put an end to the problem. If someone has taken their toy, they take it back. If someone has teased them, they end it by putting their hands on the offending child. And while it is great that these students want to deal with their own problems, because they are young and immature they often handle these situations in very wrong ways. These children end up getting into trouble at school because they forget that they are only children and that they should let an adult handle the problem.

When Joseph's father died and his brothers, fearing retribution for selling Joseph into slavery as a boy, approached and begged for forgiveness, Joseph responded, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you?" (Genesis 50:19, NLT). Joseph, through his suffering and misfortune had managed to learn an important lesson. If he were a child on the playground he might have said, "Don't be afraid of me. Am I the teacher that I can punish you?" Joseph understood that our role is to live the best lives we can, taking care of our own business, and leaving the punishing to God.

As adults, we don't always have a teacher to run to when someone wrongs us. Sure, we can take people to court or go to the boss in the right circumstances, but a lot of life we live on our own without someone to watch over our shoulders and we can be tempted at times to take care of things ourselves. We want to humiliate someone who has hurt us. We want to find a way to make our abusers feel the same pain they have caused us. We want to out-maneuver people who are playing games behind our back and try to teach them a lesson. Sometimes, we simply want to find a way to end the problem, even if it means flirting with -- or outright crossing --  a line. In short, we want to deal with the problem ourselves. But most of the time we are unable to foresee all the possible consequences of our actions. And because we are never as mature or as wise as we think we are, we end up mishandling things and, rather than bringing God glory, we look like villains.

Like Joseph, we must remember that we are not God. We must remember that our job is not to pay people back for how they have wronged us or to end it when people are attacking us. Our job is to trust God and live the best life we can possibly live. Repeatedly throughout scripture, God reminds us of this sentiment: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19, NLT).

When people attack, when they abuse you and accuse you, remember to take it to the Supreme Adult. Turn it over to God and trust your Heavenly Father to avenge you. Then live the best life you can. Anything else will not only be less than satisfying, it will just play into your abuser's hands.

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