I love bags. If you want to gift me, consider a bag.
A couple of years ago, while on a trip to South Africa, I rewarded myself with a beautiful bag for the hard work I had put in that year. It was gorgeous! Ladies, you know the kind that you strategically use for hot dates or special occasions ONLY? The one you hope will forever remain in your lineage, passed on from mother to daughter? Yeah, that ONE. So you can try to imagine my utter dismay when it mysteriously disappeared from my bedroom, and no one in our house claimed to have seen or taken it. I was devastated.
Recently, I spotted a close relative … with the bag!
An Eye for an Eye
I felt palpable anger erupting within me. My knee-jerk reaction was to immediately reclaim ownership with the force and finality of a KRA agent! My blood was crying out for vengeance. I was ready to inconvenience the person who was using it to get back what is/was rightfully mine. After all, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, right? Ha!
However, later on in the day, the burning anger became drenched with soaking grief; I was sad. So I shared the situation with my husband, knowing that his response would most likely be antithetical to what I was feeling, and he would share God’s truth with me in love. He didn’t fall short.
“… if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, give him the other also … if anyone takes your tunic, let him have your cloak as well …”
Having received the soft rebuke, I decided to dig deeper into the meaning of ‘an eye for an eye’ since I knew retaliation is a sin according to the Bible…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Cause for Distress
Innately, we are vengeful beings. Retaliation is our norm. Rugged individualism is our standard; we want to strike back! Outwardly, my cry was justice—I wanted my bag back, a quid pro quo, tit for tat— yet inwardly, my motivation was retaliation. I did not wish for the situation to be made right, I wanted to get even for the inconvenience, heartbreak, and distress caused!
What then was the cause of my distress? Did I misunderstand the verse?…
Truth Sought: Moral or Civil Law?
Apparently, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ does not fall under the moral law. It is under civil law. The difference is that, whereas the latter refers to dealings with personal relationships (man & God; man & woman), the former is a divine principle of Judicature for the courts to protect the weak from the strong, the peaceful from the violent; the slaves from their owners. This law serves as a restraint on our innate vengeance and desire for retaliation while serving as a commensurate for crimes committed against us. This is not a law to be applied to our relationships!
“In the law court, justice operates on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth basis. In human relationships, love and forgiveness operate.”
What then of Christ’s assertion?
“…But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
When Huston (my husband) shared this truth, my initial reaction was silence. I was crestfallen, not from my sin, but from the unfulfilled urge to get even; of getting my bag back. However, by evening, through Christ’s mercy, I realized my sin and repented.
God in Romans 12 neither intends for vendettas, vindications, retaliations, acts of revenge, and vengeance to govern our human relationships nor for Christians to be sanctimonious doormats. In as much as He intends that Christians should pursue peace at all costs (even if it means lovingly confronting a brother), the motivation should never be vengeance!
Having realized this, I took two steps back, prayed, and eventually decided to let my relative keep the bag for good. My decision does not negate that my relative wronged me by taking the bag without permission. Should I bring it up with the relative? Most definitely yes, because it is one of the most loving acts to point someone to their sin, so they know they need a Savior. Have I now forgiven them? I can confidently say yes, through Christ’s enabling power.
Believer, if you are battling with unforgiveness, vengeance, and retaliation, be encouraged that the grace of God’s judgment is promised to us in Romans 12 to help us overcome such a deadly spirit. Remind yourself that God will settle your account and that He will do so more justly, mercifully, and thoroughly than you ever could. Look to Christ who hung on the cross, just about to be murdered, knowing full well that sooner rather than later, his disciples and many more martyrs, to date and in the future, would fall under the same brutal judgment. He looked at an ungodly, rebellious, defiant, and insubordinate world and said, “Father forgive them.”
Grace to us all, that we may so bless those who curse us and thus prove to be true heirs of Abraham and fellow heirs with our Lord Jesus Christ.