Friday, November 19, 2010


Comment on Sabbath School Lesson for 11.20.10

Have you ever wanted to get revenge on someone?  to make someone pay for what they’ve done to you?  Is there something in particular you think of when you think of revenge?  I think of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  Captain Kirk discovers Khan stranded on a desert planet where 
“Khan reveals that 15 years earlier, Captain Kirk exiled Khan and his followers to Ceti Alpha V after the genetically-engineered supermen nearly captured the Enterprise. …Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife … and plans to avenge her…”[1]
As the plot progresses, we find out that Khan has spent the better part of the last 15 years plotting his revenge on Kirk.  It has completely consumed every area of his life and it ultimately consumes and destroys not only his life but the lives of all those around him. 

In the classic Alexander Dumas novel, The Count of Monte Cristo,
 “Edmond Dantès, a young and successful merchant sailor …, returns to Marseille to marry his fiancée Mercédès. Leclère, … An anonymous letter accuses Dantès of being a Bonapartist traitor. Villefort, the deputy crown prosecutor …, condemns Dantès without trial to life imprisonment ….”[2]
Dantes spends the next 14 years planning his revenge and then the next many, many years trying to situate himself to carry out his plan. But this story ends differently because Dantes learns forgiveness.

Stories like this don’t just happen in movies and novels, though.  It happens all the time in real life.  If you’ve ever talked to a person who has gone through a bitter divorce, you will often sense a real desire to make the other person pay for the hurt he (or she) has caused.  It’s almost like each person has tunnel vision – neither one of them can think about anything else. 

Matt Woodley of Chicago, Illinois recounts an encounter he had with his friend, Steve:
“Nineteen years ago this guy stole my wife away from me. They got married and moved to Florida while my life unraveled. After I was arrested for assaulting a police officer, this guy smirked through the entire court hearing. When I was convicted, he flipped me the finger. I've hated him for nineteen years. He's coming up here next week, I have a 32-caliber pistol strapped around my ankle, and when I see him I will kill him." Then he chillingly concluded, "I've thought all about it. I'm 63-years-old. I will get a life sentence, but I'll also get free medical and dental and a warm bed and three meals a day. All of this bitterness and resentment feels so right; forgiveness seems weird.”[3]
I believe 19 years counts as premeditation, don’t you?  Anyway, you’ll be relieved to know that Steve changed his mind and chose to forgive the man after all, but we hear on the news everyday about people who have not made that choice.

The Bible also tells us about some folks who chose revenge instead of forgiveness.  Joab is one of those people.  He was King David’s General – he had control of all of David’s fighting men.  During the years when Saul was trying to kill David, Joab stuck right by him.  Somewhere along the way, though, Abner, Saul’s General, ended up killing one of Joab’e brothers in a battle.  That was bad, but things got much worse when Abner switched over to David’s side…Joab could not handle that at all!  As soon as he could, he took his revenge on Abner by killing him, then trying to convince David that he was a traitor.

After that, Joab seems to have become more power-hungry than anything else.  As long as David seemed like the most powerful, Joab was loyal to David (even to the point of carrying out the hit on Uriah), but when David began to look weak in his old age, Joab’s loyalty was all over the place.  Solomon finally stripped him of his office and exiled him because of his collusion with Absalom and Adonijah against both David and Solomon.

It’s not that Joab didn’t know what was right; he did.  He even lectured David about God’s desire for him to show mercy to Absalom.  Joab was one who knew the truth but walked away from it – all for the sake of revenge and power.

Isn’t it a little scary that Joab, a person who knew the truth about God, could become so lost in his own selfish desires.  So lost, in fact, that he eventually he completely lost sight of the “right thing.”  We see almost exactly the same thing happen to Judas.  His bitter, angry spirit heard an insult in almost every interaction.  Following the ancient passive-aggressive pattern for life, Judas never mentioned his  bruised feelings to anyone.  He never asked for any clarification.  He just tucked away each instance in his mind and then replayed them over and over again, until they became the only thing he could see.  Mrs. White describes it this way:
“…his very spirit seemed turned to gall.  Wounded pride and desire for revenge broke down the barriers, and the greed so long indulged held him in control.  This will be the experience of everyone who persists in tampering with sin.  The elements of depravity that are not resisted and overcome respond to Satan’s temptation, and the sould is led captive at his will.”[4]
Do we let ourselves get caught in the same trap?  We file away every perceived slight – “I wasn’t asked to help with VBS this year.”  “The pastor didn’t thank me for the appreciation card I sent.”  “The church board didn’t acknowledge my ideas about…”  Pretty soon, the church family is as fractured as David’s family was.
Let’s ask Jesus to keep our hearts free from that kind of bitterness.

[1]              "Synopsis for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." n.d. IMDb: The Internet Movie Database. 10 November 2010 <>.

[2]              "The Count of Monte Cristo." n.d. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 10 November 2010 <>.
 [3]Woodley, M. (n.d.). Chicago.
[4] White, E.G. Conflict and Courage, Review and Herald

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