I Thought They Said an Eye for an Eye? Christian Counseling Responses
And Christ told Peter that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword and after that, they apprehended Christ. This story in Scripture retells the illegal arrest of Christ and how he reprimanded Peter for seeking violence. Lost in the confusion, Our Lord gently restored an ear to the temple guard whose ear had been cut off by Peter. This is the love Christ demands and the same demand Christian counselors must echo in their counseling services for those who are obsessed with the demon of vengeance.
Christ told everyone to love one’s enemies and in the Our Father commanded us to forgive others their trespasses if we wished to receive forgiveness for our own sins. Yet what a 360 degree change from the Old Testament. The words of Christ clearly state to turn the other cheek, but the words found in the Old Testament seek an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Obviously Christ did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it and in fulfilling it, he emphasized the misinterpretation by the Jewish population of this vague quote. People thought it was a personal law that applied to them instead of being an institutional law of the state. Christ corrected and reminded them that is law was not meant at the personal level and that one is to not seek vengeance but to turn the other cheek. The eye for an eye was merely a law found within the structure of judicial ruling.
What is Justice?In man’s earliest existence, justice was not disturbed by a neutral and authoritative third party, but was sought by the individual. If someone stole one’s cattle, the owner had to find compensation by taking it back within whatever measures necessary. There was a fine line between what was justice and what was vengeance. This “wild, wild west” mentality for cavemen created a very unstable environment for society. Social philosophers, Hobbes and Rosseau described this era as a dangerous one. People eventually banded together and formed “social contracts”. Under these contracts, people banded together for security and in banding together, they designated social justice to an executive branch of authority that would preserve and enforce the laws for the individual. Through this contract, individuals gave up their right for personal retribution and gave it to the state.
While this is merely a social explanation of the eventual civilization of man, one can see how justice against evil became a social correction and no longer an individual crusade. One of the most compelling argument for this form of justice was that it removed emotion from the apprehension of an evil doer. No longer would a cattle thief face the hand and the rage of the owner, but instead would face the non-subjective hands of society’s enforcers. This removed vengeance from the equation and allowed lady liberty to wear the blind fold of objectivity. Hence justice is a proportional virtue that gives to one what is truly his but within an acceptable way by a rightful authority blind to emotion and self interest.
Christ teaches one not to seek justice through one’s own hand but through the state. In individual matters, we are to turn the other cheek but through the judicial process, we may seek an “eye for an eye” in regards to compensation.
The Demon of Revenge
Yet many are consumed with a passion for revenge at all costs. Some pursuits of vengeance are trivial while others tempt many to put on a “cape and cowl” and seek justice on the streets. Are we not rightly incensed when we see pedafiles prey upon our children or see crimes against humanity through genocide? This is a just rage, one that our Lord does share. Good men must stand up to these atrocities or the world will burn when they do nothing, but it must be done within the will of God and through legitimate authority.
Counseling one bent on revenge is difficult. Yet the initial emotion of anger (even just anger) to seek out someone who has hurt someone’s family is usually like all emotions–temporary. It may even be healthy to let off some “steam” in the safe confines of counseling. One, however, should monitor closely a person who shows high traces of continued rage over a course of time. While monitoring, make risk assessments, similar to suicide assessments regarding how well thought out revenge is and if it is doable. If you feel there is a true chance of harm to anyone, you may have to find intervention at higher levels through family, church or authorities.
Christian Counselors should offer soothing thoughts that vengeance belongs to the Lord and that his justice will be manifested especially to the unrepented. Emphasize the beauty of the Sacred Heart who has been wounded by our sins and yet still forgives. Also emphasize to one who is hardened with thoughts of revenge that the Sacred Heart of Jesus offers mercy to everyone. Yet remind him also, Our Lord will come as a judge one day and his mercy will not be an option for the truly evil. In addition to this, emphasize the ideal of karma. While a Eastern ideal, it is still true that evil actions produce evil returns. Through these thoughts, hopefully one can defuse the emotion of personal revenge and help the person hand over their vengeance to God who is all merciful but also all just.
Ultimately, we have all had mean things done to us, some more extreme or terrible than others. While sometimes it is emotionally healthy for us to voice it and let it out, we must realize that the negative energy of hate will consume us and destroy us. It will drive out the charity of the Holy Spirit and allow the devil to consume us with hate. The evil done will become an obsession that will eventually lead one to demise. How many “white whales” do we wish to kill at the expense of our own life? Will we like Captain Ahab, lose our own life in a distorted trek for vengeance?
Again we should turn to Christ and remember that he forgives us of our sins. Our sins crucified him and the sins committed against us, also crucified him. Yet Christ also carries our slights from others on his shoulder and forgives them. If Christ can forgive us, and those who have hurt us, then why can we not also say “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C