“Tell them, ‘As sure as I am the living God, I take no pleasure from the death of the wicked. I want the wicked to change their ways and live.
Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
"Look who’s laughing now!”
How many times have we heard that phrase near the end of an action-adventure movie as the villain is destroyed and the hero stands above him with a huge smile on his face? This is the moment of victory: order is restored.
It’s amazing how hardwired we are to enjoy a good revenge story, or to see someone get "what’s coming to them.” I’d rather not admit it, but I’ve watched my share of videos where people attempt stupid things and end up flipping on their heads. Or they cannonball into a lake that they don’t realize is actually frozen over (HOW DID SHE NOT NOTICE???). And it makes me laugh. Why is it so enjoyable to watch someone experience bad consequences? That’s sort of, well…. off.
We enjoy watching others suffer, especially if it’s entertaining or if we think they deserve it. Ask my wife and kids. Every single time I stub my toe or slip down the stairs, they think it’s absolutely hilarious. Forgive them, father for they know not what they do!
Ok, maybe that is pretty funny. But at least wait to see if I’m ok first!!!
No, what I’m really talking about is how an attitude of satisfaction at retribution has become normalized in our world, and in our hearts.
Maybe this is why our justice system focuses so much on punishing people more than rehabilitating them. Maybe this is why the talking point is rarely about helping the person that’s been wronged, but rather making sure that the perpetrator “gets what’s coming to them.”
And it goes beyond systems and into our daily interactions as well.
We’re in the midst of yet another season of very strong opinions about what and who is evil. The culture of disdain is palpable, and people eagerly await the chance to celebrate the downfall of their adversaries. I’ve heard people say that they hope that those who aren’t taking the pandemic seriously contract COVID-19 and get hurt. I’ve also heard people say that teachers who are not comfortable teaching in person right now deserve to lose their jobs. And both attitudes seem to gain some sense of enjoyment out of thinking about those realities coming to pass. Yuck.
The pesky and loving voice of Jesus means that we have to learn to ask the question, what might a Christlike response look like instead?
There are a lot of facets to this, but today I’m thinking more about how this affects the interior of our souls. Understanding God’s heart in this area will inevitably affect ours.
Ezekiel prophesied that God is not bent on revenge, contradicting common assumptions of what all the gods were about during his era.
Jesus took it further. He looked at people who were killing him… killing God…..killing the only sinless one to ever live…. and asked the father not to be too harsh on them, because they just didn’t have the whole story.
Paul famously reminded the early church that if it’s got flesh and blood, it’s not your enemy. Nobody is beyond redemption. Everyone is created in God’s image. That means that while we may find people’s behavior wrong or unacceptable (and worth resisting) we still need to understand that the potential for evil is in every human heart, and everyone is worth offering compassion to… even if they don’t offer the same courtesy to others.
That, my friends, is countercultural.
I find it profound to think that God doesn’t delight in bad things happening to “bad people.” We can cherry pick verses out of the Old Testament to rebut this, of course, but the movement in the biblical narrative and its culmination in Jesus tell a different story.
This week, I’m asking Jesus to do good and wonderful things in the lives of those who I think are doing wrong. I’m choosing to remember that Jesus is for people. I’m praying that God changes hearts, for sure. Starting, as usual, with mine.
Jesus, give me eyes of love and compassion to look on everyone today.