Vengeance Is Mine!

Naturally, the average, decent person abhors criminal negligence.

But it suddenly occurs to me that when we allow ourselves to feel secret delight in the apprehension and punishment of a criminal, or if we gloat about it, then in some sense we are missing a subtle but important point.

During Passover, in the Haggadah, there are 10 drops of wine which are shed in sympathy for the suffering of the Egyptians during the 10 plagues and the loss of their first-born. As Plato points out in The Republic, the cruel Tyrant with absolute power is the most wretched of people, to be pitied.

One must guard the heart for:

Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.

Always remember that, whenever you clinch your fist and point the finger of accusation at anyone, there are always THREE fingers pointing back at yourself.

I am suddenly reminded of these, with this new (for me) realization:

Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Deuteronomy 32:35 ‘Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, In due time their foot will slip; For the day of their calamity is near, And the impending things are hastening upon them.’

Psalm 94:1 O LORD, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth!

Proverbs 20:22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.

Proverbs 24:29 Do not say, “Thus I shall do to him as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.”

1 Thessalonians 4:6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.

Hebrews 10:30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.

+++++++

I suppose I was trying to keep in mind sentiments like these:

http://www.ajwnews.com/archives/1474

(excerpt from above post)

Seder night celebrates our freedom from Pharaoh’s oppression, but, in one of its most poignant moments, it also commemorates the tragedy that befell the Egyptians.

As we recount the 10 Plagues that decimated Egyptian society, we spill a drop of wine for each plague, to remind us of the Egyptian blood that was spilt.

The act of spilling the wine compels us to retain our humanity when we might understandably forget it.

As we whoop with joy that we achieved our freedom, we are commanded to feel sad at the loss of human life amongst our enemies.

We do not deny that this loss of life was necessary, but neither do we rejoice in that necessity. This segment of the Seder, teaching generations of Jews that Schadenfreude is the most un-Jewish of emotions, is one of Judaism’s finest hours.
(end of excerpt)

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The issue that I point to is the guarding of one’s own heart. The crime would not be less offensive had the victim been a male in training for an Olympic competition. I have before me a slender paperback by Richard Holloway He was Bishop of Edinburgh for 14 years and Gresham Professor of Divinity in the city of London. The title of his book is “On Forgiveness – How Can We Forgive the Unforgivable?” The photo on the cover is the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb such as was used on Hiroshima. He dedicates the book to Desmond Tutu. On the 2nd page, facing the Table of Contents, is a quote from Jacques Derrida: “There is only forgiveness, if there is any, where there is the unforgivable.” These are some of the hardest lessons to learn in life, and I cannot say that I have made much progress myself. An old Greek abbot once explained righteous anger Psalm4:4 “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Selah.”

I was simply inspired by reading their post to remember the importance of these lessons from the Jewish and Christian traditions (and I am sure that similar sentiments are to be found in many other religions as well as teachings of agnostic and atheist philosophers.) Not long ago, the would-be assassin of the late Governor George Wallace was released on parole. When a reporter asked his surviving family how they feel about the the parole, they basically replied (paraphrased): “Well OF COURSE we forgive him because we are COMMANDED to forgive. But we feel he should have rotted in jail for the rest of his life.” A Protestant once told me “I am commanded to LOVE you, but I don’t have to LIKE you.” Sometimes in the zeal of our moral calculus, we throw out the baby with the bath water. There are those who stress to us the importance of our friendship with Jesus, but I sincerely feel that if it is does not transform us, it is in vain.

Agreed! And we defend ourselves by legislation and due process. If there is any knower of the heart, then there is only one, and it is that knower Samuel alludes to. Are we even the knower of our own hearts? Can we be certain that we never secretly feel schadenfreude? Kurt Vonnegut laughed at the American society who frequently clamors for monuments to The Ten Commandments but never once suggests a plaque to the beatitudes of the sermon on the mount. Vonnegut made a good point. I suspect we have been weighed, and found wanting, as a society. Jesus said “I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus says nothing about guilt or innocence.

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3 Responses to “Vengeance Is Mine!”

  1. William Buell Says:

    Someone on Facebook replied:

    Yo, Buell. Pay special attention to the conditional clause:

    “[W]e must forgive him who repents, and asketh pardon for what is past; having first taken caution for the time to come.”

    —Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), “De Cive” (1651)

    My reply:

    Yo, is an interesting choice of words, and “Buell” an interesting form of address. Sometimes, a little says a lot. I shall take your quote into consideration. Thanks!

  2. Andy Says:

    William,

    Here’s an interesting connection sparked by your post.

    You wrote,” Naturally, the average, decent person abhors criminal negligence.” This in relation to a repeat drunk driving offender who struck and killed a couple of children.

    The synapse that closed when I read that was this – The one guilty of criminal negligence in this case is the judge who let this individual back on the street. I ran the USMC 1stMarDiv drug an alcohol program years ago so I know the implications of what I am saying. I understand that drunk drivers are sick people and need help. I also understand that our justice system is too lenient with those with an addictive personality. Lenient judges are enablers AND criminally negligent. They are part of the problem – in my not so humble opinion.

    Andy

    • William Buell Says:

      Yes, Andy. I agree with you. You make good points. The point I was trying to make to the original poster on Facebook is a very subtle point about how one feels in one’s own heart, and what happens if one allows oneself to feel the so-called “shadenfreude” or joy over the suffering of one convicted and punished. I part, I guess, I wanted to make my point because the original poster had made some theological arguments to me which I do not agree with, but she made them with the best of intentions, and in what she feels is the interest of my own well being. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment! How did you chance upon this post. Are you on Facebook, or Plurk? Are you an alumnus of St. John’s College in Annapolis?

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