Do Not Repay Evil for Evil
(Romans 12:17a NKJV)
Its presence circles around humans like shadowy Ringwraiths from the time we enter the world until God takes us home again.
***Note: Originally nine kings of men, the Ringwraiths were given a ring of power by Sauron the Deceiver but ended being controlled and bound to his will. From Lord of the Rings***
Some folks, if they’re lucky, manage to avoid evil most their lives. Others of us fight it off all the time—either because of circumstances we’ve created ourselves, or because we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ultimately, when I think about evil, I think about injustice: purposeful, premeditated injustice. Evil is at the heart of everything from child trafficking, human slavery, rape and incest, to a boss who verbally assaults her employees, the town gossip who spreads untruths, or a bully on the playground.
I wish I could say I don’t know what any of those situations feel like, but I can’t. I was bullied as a child. I survived incest and molestation. I’ve been berated by bosses and torn down by gossips.
I’ve looked Evil in the eye, and I hate him.
I wish I could say that hate didn’t cause me to wish harm on those who’ve hurt me. I wish I could say I lifted my eyes to the heavens, embraced the pain, and forgave my perpetrators in an instant, letting anger and fear float from my heart as effortlessly as a silver mist in icy air on a clear winter morning.
But too often, I want to hurt evildoers back. I want them to feel the same pain and shame I felt. I wanted them to crumple at the burn in the gut that comes with the sunrise, awakening me to the knowledge I have another day to heal. I want them to feel the prison bars of dread and isolation that result from evil’s heyday on the soul.
Too often, I want to repay evil for evil.
Yet this attitude is in direct conflict—and indeed disobedience—to the will of the One who set me free.
I love The Message version of Romans 12:17a, “Don’t hit back.” “But Lord,” I reply, “I gotta hit back! No one besides me can make them understand how much they hurt me! Lemme at ’em! Please!”
And the longer I cry, the more my frustration morphs into bitterness.
And more pain.
Here’s the thing: when I want to hit back, I own the evil. Taking my skewed perspective of justice into my own hands means I don’t trust God enough to lay my burden in His hands.
When betrayed, hurt, or mowed over by evil, trust is difficult. Trusting an invisible God is even harder. And yet trusting God with the evil—letting Him handle it—is the only solution that frees us from the evil forever.
The familiar story of Joseph in Genesis 37 is a perfect example. Though thrown into the pit, beaten, sold and betrayed by his own brothers, Joseph did not retaliate. Even when they came to him decades later, hungry and needy beggars, Genesis 50:19-21 (The Message) tells us Joseph replied, “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people.”
Surrendering our need for payback to God isn’t easy. Evil reduces a person and their view of the world and of God to a miniscule powerless enigma. Like a beaten horse with blinders on, we can’t help but kick back at those who kick us, convinced God is no greater than the man in Oz, smoke and mirrors, hiding behind a curtain. As such, our human need to repay evil for evil is to ultimately dismiss the sovereign, all-powerful, lovingkindness of God (see Isaiah 40)—who promises over and over that He sees all and knows all and brings justice to all.
The only way I’ve found to rise above the evil and the desire to payback those who’ve hurt me is to turn my eyes to creation, in order to re-remind myself of God’s greatness. As so many of the prophets and psalmists knew, turning our eyes to the expanses of the universe reminds us of the infinite power and awesomeness of our God, the One who breathed stars and worlds into existence without even lifting a finger. In doing so, we attest to truth of Proverbs 20:22, which says, “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil; Wait for the LORD, and He will save you.’”
Too often it feels like no one knows or cares about the evil we face. But waiting on God…basking in the stillness of His flaming justice in the reds of the maple trees in the fall…breathing in the mercy of His presence in the form of a friend’s embrace…realizing the enormity of His grace in caring for me, a vapor in the wind of eternity…choosing those things makes evil-for-evil nonsensical.
Colossians 1:14 tells us we are redeemed through His blood. If we believe that, we must believe Christ fought our battles 2,000 years ago. He laid evil bare in the empty grave. He saved us then, and He will do it again for you today.
The blood of Christ is, was, and ever shall be the payback for evil.
And that, my friends, is payback enough for anyone.
For each one.
And for all.