Sometimes vengeance seems appropriate, even righteous. Great crimes against humanity, rampant selfishness, persistent evil intent, shameless dishonesty, callous harming of others—all feel like legitimate reasons for 1comeuppance. The greater the crimes, the louder the calls for retribution.
This is an ageless notion. In ancient Greek mythology, these concepts hearken back to The 2Furies—hideous flying goddesses of punishment. In the Old Testament, 3Mosaic Law allowed reciprocal punishment to be invoked and carried out by victims of specific crimes.
A counterbalancing idea arises in both the Old and New Testaments: The directive to repay evil with kindness. This seems to be solid evidence that individual vengeance was ultimately not God’s preferred method of enacting justice. (As examples, see Proverbs 20:21-22; Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17ff or Hebrews 10:30-31.)
Vengeance doesn’t always work that well. Cultures based on revenge can become locked into repeating cycles of retribution. Homemade comeuppance can lack wisdom or foresight, so individuals who take the law into their own hands eventually suffer the consequences of those actions. Sadly, a vengeful spirit can corrode one’s self-respect and relationships.
I remember my father’s warnings about vengeful mindsets. He reminded us that revenge and repayment for evil belong to God—how terrible it would be to run afoul of God’s fury. As I have grown older, I understand my father’s insights—how too-quick inclinations to punish serve no long-lived purpose. Another source of encouraging wisdom: The principled practitioners of 4restorative justice, who have now spread their influence into many facets of society.
Without lapsing into schadenfreude, I am relieved that the wheels of justice are now turning to restore our nation’s governance to the principles of our Constitution—and towards Scripture’s insistent guidance. I know that today’s ego-soaked despots will eventually face judgment and punishment. That comeuppance seems appropriate.
1 A mashup of “come + up”, denoting an appearance in front of a lawful tribunal for judgement and/or punishment.
2 Legends of The Furies predated by centuries the mythology surrounding Zeus. These three female goddesses from the underworld—Allecto (Unceasing anger); Tisiphone (Avenger of murder) and Megaera (Jealous)—were also called The Eumenides. Their form of punishment: Endlessly hounding those who were guilty. In a positive twist, early Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote how The Furies were persuaded to become promoters and protectors of justice—using comeuppance to accomplish something good.
3 Exodus 21 and 22 illustrate this feature of Mosaic Law, here considering murder, assault, theft, gross negligence and personal injury.
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