“That’ll Teach ‘Em!” Thoughts on Revenge and Forgiveness

When we are hurt by someone, one of the most fundamental temptations is to react with anger and a determination to strike back.  Whether they have been insensitive, mean, violent, or disrespectful, we want to teach them a lesson.  One that make our message quite clear: what you did was wrong, and BAM!, that’s what it felt like, so stop. We justify lashing out, saying to ourselves, “that’ll teach ’em!”

Does this sound familiar? When your boss embarrassed you in front of everyone else, were you tempted to point out one of his mistakes in return?  When your husband nagged you about forgetting something, did you want to remind him about his forgetfulness?  When your friend forgot your birthday, did you want to neglect them also?  There are a huge variety of situations where we find ourselves hurt and offended by someone else, and in many of them, we look to respond in kind.

What does this produce in our society?  The cumulative effect of these individual choices is a downward spiral in our communities.  When we try to teach each other these lessons, we teach a principle far deeper than we knew: that it is wise to “hurt the person who hurts you.”

This approach to relationships really doesn’t work.  It doesn’t work because we teach a profoundly mistaken idea, an idea that actually comes back to hurt us.  The wider its adoption, the more pain we will cause to one another. It like a never-ending boxing match with progressively weaker but ever more determined fighters, going after one another for hundreds of rounds.

“That’ll teach ‘em”: what if that became a phrase tinged not by snarky anticipation but by humble hope?   What if our response to being hurt was to grieve not only the injury, but also the brokenness of the one who wounded us?  What if we asked: how could I creatively surprise this person with something good and restorative? If we resolved to teach one another the goodness and delight of love, especially in the most difficult situations, our own souls would grow, our relationships could be healed, and our communities would be beautiful and life-giving.

This is the example of Jesus, whose creative desire to serve us led to the cross, taking upon Himself our pain and sin that we might know forgiveness, love, healing, and restoration.  Imagine with me what it would be like to be filled by the same Spirit that strengthened Jesus for his loving work, so that we can say with love, humility, courage and a servant’s heart, “yes, that’ll teach ‘em.”