Thursday, April 02, 2009

An Eye For An Eye

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..." 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.


James McNally said...

"If I learned anything from being bullied in elementary school it's that the tormenting will stop if you stop fighting back."


I think the issue in the Middle East is that one party has so much more political and military power over the other, is the bully, so to speak, and the other party strikes back in whatever shocking and seemingly unfair way that it can. Even if both sides stopped "taking revenge", it wouldn't change the incredible imbalance of power which seems to be at the root of the conflict.

For the record, my experience in grade school was quite different from yours. When people realized that if they provoked me, I would (attempt to) go medieval on them, they thought they should just leave that crazy kid alone. Unfortunately, that's not really the lesson you want kids (or your readers) to draw from this story, but unfortunately, it's pretty deep in our natures to want to stand our ground.

I see the value of "turning the other cheek" (of course) but I think you can't strip the situation in the Middle East of its political and historical complications. Turning the other cheek will never be an end in itself for Palestinians, because they will want something in return. Not just peace, but what they consider justice.

Great blog post, Mr. Brad!

Brad in the 'Loo said...

No question about the imbalance of power but don't you think there might be room for real some discussion/change if both sides stopped trying to kill each other?

The Good Friday accord in Ireland comes to mind as an example of what can happen if both sides just say enough is enough. Obviously the situation is not perfect, but it has unquestionably improved over 10 years ago.

Perhaps it's just my nature or my soft life in suburban Canada, but I just don't understand the need to fight over ancient wrongs.

Cas said...

First thing that comes to mind reading your post was "Peace Child" by Don Richardson.

If it's all about power, it's not until this is sacrificed that peace can be achieved. We only want vengence when we believe we deserve something or that the world owes us something.

Until we realise we are nothing without the value we get from our creator, we will never achieve true forgiveness or peace.

Thanks for the brain food Brad :)

Brad in the 'Loo said...

Thanks for the excellent comment Cas!

Ah, yes, the sacrifice of power. I guess at its essence, that is exactly what I'm referring to - giving up that which we believe we have a right to or deserve for the greater good. And ultimately, our value...our salvation...our peace...comes from the giver of peace, so are we really sacrificing all that much in the end anyway?

Peace is a state of heart not a state of being.