The War of Revenge: What Have I Won But a Burned Treehouse!

Posted: October 16, 2014 in 99-Uncategorized
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Romans 12:17-21 — Do you remember a movie from 20 years ago called, “The War” (starring Kevin Costner and a young Elijah Wood). It is one of my favorite movies ever. It speaks to our human nature. In that movie, whose setting was the Vietnam War era, kids build a tree house/fort and some other kids try to take it away from them. As the movie progresses, there is an ever-increasing level of violence to the point that on one summer afternoon the hatred of the two groups of kids for one another grows to the point that an all-out war for possession of the fort begins. In the end, the fort is burned to the ground. No one wins. There is nothing left to win.

It is this mentality that pervades our world today. It is to this mentality that Paul speaks through the ages directly to us in today’s verses. These verses summarize the core of Christian living and how it is often times the opposite of our human nature. It is our human nature to pay back evil with more evil. It is our nature to seek revenge for real or perceived wrongs done to us. In this day and age of ever increasing lawsuits, we demand that our rights not be abridged. In this world where we have become a people who says I can do whatever I want and I have inalienable right to do it, Paul speaks to us. Paul’s command sounds almost impossible.

When people hurt you deeply, in our sin nature, we wanna pay ’em back with what they deserve. Paul says to befriend them. Why should we forgive our enemies? C’mon Paul, that sounds so weak. That sounds like we should be doormats and let people just run roughshod over us. Why forgive our enemies? Man, that’s a hard one. My soul screams out for revenge. I want to be satisfied. I want to knock down my enemies and give them the same feeling of hurt and pain that they gave me. Can you feel that anger and pain? Can you feel it? Right now, you are drifting back in memory to a time that someone hurt you deeply. Right now, you may be experiencing that time all over again in your mind. The anger wells up in you and your stomach churns. Your pulse quickens. You mentally think about the revenge that you did take or should have taken. Why Paul? Why? Why do I as a Christ follower have to forgive me enemies?

Forgiveness may break a cycle of retaliation that leads to destruction and bring about reconciliation. It may make your enemy feel ashamed causing a change in the person’s ways. Even if your enemy never repents and forgives you as well, you have relived yourself of a heavy burden of bitterness. When we forgive evil done to you, you quit obsessing about that person. When we forgive, we quit “letting them live rent free in our head.” Lend a helping hand, send a gift, or just smile at them. Right actions often lead us to forgiveness. If we forgive without having the payback we want for revenge, we are extending grace. Remember, grace by theological definition is an undeserved gift. By giving an enemy grace, we are not excusing what they did, we’re not recognizing, forgiving, and loving that person with a love that they do not deserve. Hmmm. Who else did that? Yes, it was Jesus Christ. God loves us despite our rebellion against Him. He loves us so much that He sent His Son to be a sacrifice for the sins that we committed so that we can avoid our proper judgment and be reconciled to Him. It is like a father who loves his teenage son despite the fact that the son blatantly has disdain for him in word and deed. If we have been given grace through Jesus Christ, should we not extend that same grace to our enemies.

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting like the saying says. Forgiveness means remembering what was done but choosing, get that – choosing, to love your offender anyway. We do not have to be gushy friends with those who have hurt us. We do have to extend them grace. They may have their own motivations that we must try to understand. In our understanding, we learn to extend grace. However, it does not mean we have to be best friends. We can learn to respect them again. We can end the cycle of revenge. In my divorce from my first wife, it was the “divorce from hell” where my ex constantly attacked me with intensity for over two years – to the point that she made accusations that prevented me from seeing my children for six months. It was nasty. It was mean. It consumed life and all that was around it. Through it all, I tried to take the high road and not get down in the dirt. Many times, my sin nature got the best of me but I was able to get beyond it. Today, twenty years later, I have forgiven all the mean things that happened. However, we are not friends. I care about what happens to her and can have a civil conversation with her these days when we do in fact talk but I have moved on in life. There is no commonality other than our grown kids now. There is just nothing in common. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean that you have to be all up in their lives. Forgiveness is for us not for those we forgive. When we forgive, we give it up to the Lord. He may lead us to re-establish relationship but He may also lead us to just quit letting our enemy consume our mind and heart. When we forgive, He may lead us away to more healthy relationships. He may lead us to change playgrounds and playmates. We can’t have healthy relationships with others when we let our enemies consume our very soul. Our very soul should be consumed with the Holy Spirit not our enemies.

In the end of the movie, “The War”, the fort was destroyed. Nothing was left to win. The only thing, the one and only thing that broke the cycle of ever-escalating violence was when Elijah Wood’s character saved his enemies’ little baby brother from drowning. The war was over then. Although the kids did not become great friends in the end, the war was over. They learned to respect each other. They learned that revenge for revenge leads us to forget what the heck we were fighting for in the first place. Revenge becomes its own god. Revenge destroys our soul. Forgiveness frees us. Regardless of whether we get our payback or not, forgiveness sets us free to remove that idol from our lives. When we are obsessed with revenge, we are making ourselves god. Forgiveness puts God back on the throne. Forgiveness emulates our Father’s forgiveness for us. We have been given grave. Let us extend it to others. It doesn’t mean we have to be their best friend but it does mean that we let go of that obsession, that I idol that we have made of our hatred of that person. It is God’s job to judge. It is not ours. It is our job to extend the same grace that God gave us in Jesus Christ.

Otherwise, the fort is burned. There is nothing left. In “the War” the fort was never rebuilt. Destruction was complete and there was no desire anymore. Love has gained more than war every time. War just leads to more war. Love is a permanent solution. War consumes everything in its path. Love lets things grow. Forgive before the war consumes you. Forgive.

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