I came across this story in the Toronto Star today:
A Palestinian with an axe and a knife killed a 13-year-old Israeli boy and wounded a 7-year-old boy in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank today, two days after a right-wing government took power in Israel. Citing Israeli "crimes of occupation," Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility in a statement.
As always in a case like this, the story is followed by a plethora of angry comments blaming one side or the other for what happened and who should be taking revenge on whom.
As often happens, the first thing that came to mind after reading the story and the comments were song lyrics. In this case I immediately thought of Derek Webb's song I For An I and the lyric, "An eye for an eye will never satisfy 'till there's nothing left to see." It should be an easy concept to understand but we humans are not real bright when it comes to these things. Seeking revenge for a violent act only leads to more violent acts. It's as simple as that.
If ever there was proof of this truth, it is the situation in the Middle East. For generation after generation, Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other to gain vengeance for a previous misdeed which has only led to both sides becoming even more deeply entrenched in their positions; neither side willing to make any real strides towards a lasting peace.
That being said, seeking revenge occurs everywhere, not just in the Middle East. Neighbours take revenge against each other over small disagreements. Teens will take revenge on someone who "dissed" them. Drivers will cut each other off in traffic for a perceived violation. Husbands and wives will doing things to tick each other off just because "he said..." or "she said..." Co-workers...friends...church members...the list is endless. We are a venge-filled people.
The desire to seek revenge is embedded deep in our hearts and will rear its ugly head at the drop of a hat. As with most of my posts, I point the finger at myself first because I recognize the depth of violence and anger that lives within me. But what would happen if we just stopped? Just stopped seeking revenge for every slight, large or small, perceived or real. Imagine if Israel or Palestine just said, "That's it. We're done. No more eye for an eye. No more repaying suicide bombers with rocket attacks." If I learned anything from being bullied in elementary school it's that the tormenting will stop if you stop fighting back.
To bring it a little closer to home, what if church members stopped taking such offense over small infractions that were more than likely unintentional anyway? What if we really did become a community of love choosing to turn the other cheek?
Finally, what if you and I were filled with forgiveness instead of vengeance? I know that sounds difficult if not impossible, but if the Kingdom of God dwells within us (Luke 17:21) is anything really beyond possibility? If the same Jesus who created the heavens and the earth, the same Jesus who forgave his crucifiers even as they were driving the spikes into his cross, if this same Jesus dwells in us, then nothing is impossible. As I wrote a couple of days ago, if we have died to ourselves, then we have undermined the powers; in this case the power of vegeance. I'm not talking mere behaviour modification here, I'm talking real change.
And when it comes to violence and vengeance, it seems a change would do us all some good.