United Church of Christ

Payback

“Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.” - Psalm 7:15-16 (NIV)

I confess: I want pit diggers to fall into their own holes. I want tormenters to suffer the torments they dish out, like those rhino poachers I read about recently who got stomped on by elephants and eaten by lions. Only a pair of pants remained. Serves ’em right.

But that’s not the way the world usually works. Usually violence and injustice go unpunished. The wicked don’t suffer the consequences of their wickedness. They laugh all the way to the bank.

Their impunity enrages me. I doubt hell exists, but for them I really want it to. It’s not becoming, but I want them to feel the pain of what they’ve done. Forever and ever, amen.

Here’s the problem though: Even if the psalmist is right and there’s some sort of built-in payback in the universe, no one should rejoice. Because payback always means more violence. It punishes, but it doesn’t fix a thing. And it doesn’t satisfy. If you’re even a little like me, you could watch pit diggers drop screaming into pits all day long and still want more. All you’re left with is a corroded heart.

Here’s what Jesus taught instead: Stand with the victims of the violent. See them. Be their witness. Instead of fanning rage, do the works of mercy. Do them even when you think you can’t. Even when you have to suffer for it.

And don’t plot revenge. Or hope that the universe will do it for you. The only way to makes things better in the face of violence is to refrain from doing, or wanting, more.

Prayer

Make me a channel of your peace.

About the Author
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.

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