Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.
~~ Mark Twain
Bruce Tippit spoke about revenge in his morning service today. I won’t quote him because I probably will not be accurate, but an almost quote is: Revenge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
What a powerful statement that is! Bitterness and the desire for revenge is a poison that can quickly smother the love that is a defining characteristic of Christianity. When your heart is consumed with bitter feelings of revenge, it diminishes the capacity for love. It can cause you to behave in a manner that is uncharacteristic of your personality. It can permanently stain the way others see you, like an oil spot that starts small and spreads across white fabric. The center of the spot is dark, but even the light edges mar the fabric permanently.
I wish I could say that I have never had the bitter desire for revenge in my heart. I have been guilty of clinging to thoughts of revenge so tightly that no good thoughts could enter my mind. Usually, I find that the person I wanted to hurt so badly was suffering a pain far worse than I could imagine.
When my brother was stabbed in the heart and left to die, I wanted his wife to suffer the way my brother did. I will never forget how my brother lay in bed crying, unable to communicate with us, as the doctor said that his condition would never improve. Even though my brother did eventually recover, I can still see his eyes and the tears rolling down the sides of his face until they were caught in his tangled hair. They lay there glistening like the sharp edge of a blade. His pain ripped a gash in my own heart that was filled with a bitter despair and desire for revenge. When his wife went to trial for the stabbing, we learned many things about her past that were horrifying. As far as I could tell, she had never experienced love in her life and had suffered abuse from others as a child. I wanted her to experience the suffering of a brother who could not speak or respond to the world, but she had already suffered that much as a voiceless child who merely survived in a world that was full of pain and void of love.
I went to my pastor and God that time and asked for help in purging my mean spirit, and those prayers were answered. I am ashamed to say that I have not always been so quick to turn to God when that bitter seed of revenge was planted in my heart.
Last year my son suffered a divorce, and I do mean suffered. His wife kept my son from my grandson and step-daughter, and I felt that was an unforgivable sin. As I listened to my son literally cry himself to sleep on the phone, the seed of bitter revenge began to grow in my heart. That seed sprouted when my son called me at work crying so hysterically that he could not function at his own job because of the pain he suffered from seeing, holding, and loving his children. The many events that took place while we were waiting for the divorce and the months following the divorce tended and nourished that seed profusely. My actions after the divorce are detestable. I struck out against my daughter-in-law and engaged with her in a war of words. Both of us were hurt, as were my grandchildren. A great thorn tree grew in our family, and I was the person who planted and fed it.
I wanted my daughter-in-law to suffer, and that was the poison that I drank. It took a lot of praying for me to get to a place where I could sincerely pray for her happiness. I know that God has forgiven me for my actions and bitter hate, but I can only hope that someday my former daughter-in-law will forgive me.
If revenge is like drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die, forgiveness is the antidote. We need not look far for this antidote.
God holds it in His hands and administers it freely.
Dr. Bruce Tippit is the Senior Pastor of First BaptistChurch in Jonesboro, Arkansas.