Monday, August 4, 2014

Sex, Abuse & Murder for Revenge; Who Takes Revenge?

            I was motivated to dwell on the subject of vengeance this week after coming across the following media reports:

            (1) In an act of vengeance, a Kenyan HIV positive undergraduate student, it seems, has thus far infected 324 men and plans to infect 2000 more through unprotected sexual intercourse.1

            (2) A video of a maid physically abusing an infant. YouTube has several videos of such abuses, each of them demonstrating an utter depravity of the mind through maximal rage.

            The act of the HIV positive Kenyan student infecting a multitude of men through unprotected sexual intercourse could be a deliberate act of vengeance. The physical abuse of infants by maids, who are meant to care and protect, reveals possible vengeance, but a very certain mindless rage.

            The Kenyan student wasn’t the only one who went on a venomous vengeful sexual rampage; there are other documented instances of a similar nature - Darnell “Boss Man” McGee and Pamela Wiser, to name a few.2 

            It is evil to avenge one person, but isn’t it a sinister mind that avenges many? Why would anyone resort to revenge? What would possibly cause a person to operate with venomous vengeance?

            Let’s consider some scientific conclusions for probable causes.

            Social psychologist Dr. Ian McKee links vengeful tendencies to social attitudes such as right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance. He concluded that "people who are more vengeful tend to be those who are motivated by power, by authority and by the desire for status…They don't want to lose face." Such people, he adds, are those that "tend to be less forgiving, less benevolent and less focused on universal-connectedness-type values."  Professor of Psychology, Dr. Michele Gelfand offers a cultural dimension and concludes that anger fuels revenge in individualistic cultures, and shame in collectivistic cultures.3 

            Some scientists attribute revenge to catharsis3 (evacuation of emotional tensions or emotional release). Although revenge in such situations should bless the avenger, for in avenging, the pent up emotional tensions are evacuated and the avenger remains at peace. But scientists conclude that revenge as an act of emotional catharsis fails to evacuate emotional tensions, instead damages the individual seeking revenge by keeping the wounds fresh.3&4

            Some avengers consider revenge to be sweet and satisfying. Some psychologists conclude that another cause for revenge is reestablishment of justice.4

            However, studies into these causes to avenge conclude that avengers have much to agonize, for in various instances a revenge meant to be satisfying may not satisfy the avenger, and revenge meant to reestablish justice need not be successful.4

            Therefore, if we summarize these scientific conclusions, we arrive at the following significant and possible reasons for revenge:

            (1) Right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance.

            (2) Anger and shame.

            (3) Catharsis (evacuation of emotional tensions or emotional release).

            (4) Satisfaction.

            (5) Reestablishment of justice.

            To reiterate, scientists have observed that these reasons for revenge need not necessarily heal or placate the avenger. Instead, the act of revenge significantly damages the avenger. Therefore, the avenger remains in the very pitiful state that initially motivated him/her towards revenge. In other words, even in the eyes of secularists, revenge wrecks the avenger greatly.

            Let’s consider the Bible now.

            Doesn’t the Bible, Old Testament specifically, advocate revenge through its ordinance ‘eye for eye’ (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21)?

            ‘Eye for eye’ was purely in the context of unbiased justice (neither too strict nor too gentle) within a judicial system, wherein a judge impartially judges an offense. God does not motivate his people to avenge through the ordinance of ‘eye for eye.’5

            Alternatively, the Bible categorically teaches that revenge should never be a part of a Christian life, in the realm of personal relationships. There are simply no excuses for revenge in a Christian, for God said, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Leviticus 19: 18, NASB). The Bible mandates its believers to overcome evil with good (Matthew 5: 38-48; Romans 12: 9-21) and to love each other as the Lord loves us (John 13: 34, 15: 12).

            From time to time we may observe Christians avenging in personal relationships. If the Bible mandates love instead of revenge, how could a Christian desire revenge instead of love? If a Christian avenges, then should his Christianity be questioned?

            Christians who exact revenge may be immature or ungodly. Then again, an immature Christian cannot be a serial avenger, because serial revenge is a gross violation of the Scripture. Hence serial revenge is ungodly and unchristian. On the other hand, if a Christian persists in serial vengeance, then there is a good possibility of mental sickness as well.

             A genuine Christian could exact revenge in a fit of rage. Thereafter, he/she would comply with the promptings of the Holy Spirit to repent and relent from vengeance. Then again, this person would not serially repent and relent. Serial sin cannot be a character of a genuine Christian. 

            Let’s for a moment consider atheists, for they reject God. Hence, would atheists be consistently vengeful?

            Atheists can, in quite a few instances, relegate genuine Christians to shame through their extreme kindness, grace, love and charity. Vengeance may not even be in the life’s dictionary of these atheists.

            So the absence of vengeance in the absence of God is an interesting feature. How do we reconcile this situation?

            In other words, when Christians take revenge, especially serial revenge, we conclude that they must be ungodly / unchristian or mentally sick. Alternatively, they were not Christians to begin with. (Mental sickness is another can of worms, so we shall keep it aside.)

            But should not an atheist, who rejects God, be actively prone to vengeance? In other words, if not God, then what causes an atheist to choose love over vengeance? Because we do observe that in the absence of God, some choose to be vengeful and others not (some succumb to their desire for revenge and the others overcome that very desire).

            What then causes the ungodly to not be vengeful? The Bible teaches that, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…” (Romans 2: 14-15, NASB, Emphasis mine). The ungodly do know what it is to be right and wrong, and they choose to be right than wrong, for they too are under the absolute sovereignty of God.

            But those who rebel to be serially sinful have set their minds on not what is right or on not what God wants HIS people to do. In fact, they rebel against the Biblical teaching, “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Colossians 3: 2, NASB). Therefore, the ungodly, by rejecting God, set their minds on the things of the earth, when they choose to be serially vengeful.

            Christians would at times feel the need to avenge especially when they are victimized for what they reckon as no fault of theirs. What should be done in these situations?

            Sinful desires to avenge should be sacrificed at the altar of God’s justice, and Christians should emulate David’s kindness to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me, and may the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Samuel 24: 12, NASB; Cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). But this is easier said than done, so how do we emulate David?

            Christian life ought to be intentionally lived in God’s presence. We need to intentionally live so not to be vengeful. Therefore, we are called to “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things… practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4: 6-9, NASB).

            We are to intensify our prayer to God in times of sinful desires. We are to intentionally dwell on that which is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. If we pray intensely and intentionally remain in Christ by virtue of thinking that which is godly, then the God of peace would rule our hearts and we will refrain from being vengeful. Amen.

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