Renounce revenge, pursue justice

By Dave Henning / March 24, 2023

“Since doing justice is at its essence loving your neighbors enough to want them to be freed from the evil at work in their hearts, then it is possible to pursue both justice and forgiveness, to renounce revenge and still pursue justice for the good of all, not for your own emotional satisfaction.”- Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller continues Chapter 7 of Forgive as he notes the crucial need to discern the two aspects of forgiveness discussed in the previous blog.  Consequently, Pastor Keller relates the story of Steven McDonald (1957-2017), a NYPD officer.

In 1986, while on duty in Central Park, a fifteen-year-old boy shot McDonald three times at point blank range.  Steven was paralyzed from the neck down.  Six months later his wife gave birth to a son.  McDonald saw the birth as a message from God to live differently.  He prayed for change.

Most significantly, the first answer to his prayer focused on a desire to forgive Shavod, the young man who shot him.  For a time, the two corresponded and Shavod apologized.  But eventually Shavod stopped writing.  In addition, three days after getting out of prison in 1995, Shavod died in a motorcycle accident.  Yet, this largely failed effort aided the renewal of McDonald’s heart.  Above all, it served as a witness to the world.

Hence, Pastor Keller turns his attention to Jesus’ two directives on loving enemies.  At the end of Matthew 5, often called the ‘high point’ of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes a life of love that includes enemies and ‘evil people’.  Not just friends and ‘good people’.

In conclusion, Pastor Keller stresses, Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:38 don’t overturn the lex talionis (‘an eye for an eye’), as originally given in the Old Testament.  Because the lex talionis provided Israel’s judges with a ready formula of punishment.  A penalty that decisively terminated vendettas.

Thus, it provided judges with a rule of thumb for deciding legal cases and also set limits for restitution.  However, in Jesus’ time this rule of thumb morphed into a warrant for revenge in personal relationships.  A default response.

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you renounce revenge and pursue justice?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Pragmatic wisdom – love enemies?”

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Dave Henning

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