Revenge is of Death and Deadly
Eye for an eye only works a few times before you are blind.
Revenge is of death and deadly. Forgiveness has taken its place, and forgiveness is the giving, and so the receiving, of life.
– George MacDonald
There is troparion (short hymn) in the Orthodox Church for Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
The horrible curse that man brought on himself through disobedience was death. From the garden to the present, the consequences of sin is death. What makes death anxiety-laden, fearful, and that which is typically avoided, is that it is not according to our true nature. Our true nature is life, and life abundant. Christ came to the world to save sinners and reconcile the world to himself. But save from what? Sin, which leads to Death. Christ’s death brought him to the grave, or hell (Gr,. hades; Heb., sheol), but it could not hold him, and through his resurrection he defeated death itself.1 Through Christ’s death, and through faithful participation in him through the Holy Spirit, we receive life. Jesus brought us life, so that our spiritual nature is no longer required to participate in death, but because we have inherited from Adam the consequences of the fall, our bodies still die. Yet because of Christ, the sting of death has been conquered, because the hope of the Christian is in the resurrection of the Incarnate Christ.
We are given the opportunity to participate in the things of Christ and of Faith, or to participate in the things of the old nature.
There is an ancient document, likely from the first century AD, called the Didache (“Teaching”), which says:
There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, your neighbour as yourself; and all things whatsoever you would should not occur to you, do not also do to another. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you.
What MacDonald frames above is connected to this patristic philosophy: if you feed revenge, you feed more death, and spread death by so doing. Forgiveness is choosing to release that burden and participate in Christ-likeness, and so too participate in life, and giving life.
What of the innocent being wronged such that revenge—punitive coerced restitution—is even a temptation? Forgiveness is releasing that judgement that we think we are entitled to, and letting processes outside of ourself work that out: in society, that may be legal or civil society, but no matter how it works out, God is final judge of all men. Justice comes to us all. In the light, all things are revealed, and God’s judgement declares the reality of the soul as it is. That soul has become what it is as a result of whether he or she has faithfully cooperated with Grace.
And I shall ask you yourself, and you shall teach me. Indeed, hearing by the ear I heard of you before, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I despise myself and am wasted away, and I think of myself as earth and ashes. (Job responding when God speaks to him, Job 42 : 2-6, LES)
For us who might seek forgiveness rather than revenge, we can pray for our enemies, and fast for those who persecute us.
This is, of course, not the only thing that Christ’s death accomplishes or reconciles.