There’s this thing about baseball that I think is pretty cool. They have what are considered to be “unwritten” rules. These are guidelines that apply to situations where there is no actual rule in the rulebook, but it is understood that there are certain things that everyone does or does not do. The unwritten rules also apply in such a manner that, if A happens, then B is likely to also occur.
For example, there is a very exciting scenario in which a player from one team hits a home run. After hitting the ball, the player who struck said homer proceeds to do one of a few things; watch the ball from the box without beginning to run the bases in a timely fashion, yell something exuberant at the pitcher (gets mouthy), or flips the bat in a fashion that is perceived as showing up the pitcher. In such an instance, what usually occurs is that the next time that player comes up to bat, he has the pleasure of being drilled by a 90+ MPH fastball, most likely on or near the buttocks. It’s the law of the land – baseball revenge as it were. Ask anyone who’s watched or played baseball a long time, and they’ll tell you – ‘when you hit a homer, put your head down and run, if you don’t want to get drilled.’
For most of us, life can start to feel a little like baseball. There are all sorts of scenarios that aren’t written down anywhere, but when they happen, they cause us to want to seek out some measure of revenge. Maybe someone took advantage of your kindness at work and wound up getting the promotion you’d been dreaming of for months. Perhaps a sibling got credit for a nice gesture or present that you gave to your parents. Might even be something as serious as someone making a move on a person you were dating or married to – and the relationship you had such high hopes for, wound up crumbling and failing. No matter what the reason, it would be easy to understand the drive and desire to get someone back, given the right circumstances.
But here’s the thing about revenge; even though many people say it’s a dish best served cold, I would posit that it’s a dish best not served at all. You see the problem with serving dishes, is that it takes a lot of work, both physically and emotionally. First you have to dream them up. Then you have to get the ingredients. Then you have to prepare them. After all THAT work, you still have to put them on the plate and serve them, at the perfect time for maximum results. And do you know what has happened during that entire process? For one, you’ve become so focused and enthralled with the idea of getting back at someone else, that they and revenge in general have become all you can think about. In the process, they have stolen from you; your joy, your time, your capacity to forgive and move on, and even the ability to repair the relationship. Those are that you can never get back.
But second, and perhaps most important, is that watching someone eat their revenge-filled dish, is never quite as satisfying as you anticipated it would be. There’s something about hurting another person, that while it might feel good for a hot second, comes back and makes us all feel icky inside. You start out looking to make someone else feel bad, and in the end, the person who feels the worst, is most often you.
I think the reason this is true, is because we were never intended to carry the weight of trying to ‘equal’ things out in this world. The reality is that in a place where sin and evil about, the idea of fairness is really nothing more than a pipe dream. Bad things have, and will continue to happen – and the idea of even-ing them out, while admirable, isn’t feasible. Some of us are just going to get more than others.
Furthermore, there are those amongst us, who have decided to live life outside of the WRITTEN rules. Not everyone adheres to the ‘golden rule’ of do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Still less follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself. And almost none of us can live by the Apostle Paul’s written instructions to the new christians in the city of Rome, when he writes;
Romans 12:14–16 (ESV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
It’s almost as if God knew and understood the pressure, perhaps even the burden of trying to make things right in this world, and decided that someone much more capable would try and carry the weight of it all.
Romans 12:17–21 (ESV)
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Proverbs 20:22 (ESV)Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.
Leviticus 19:18 (ESV)
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
These are just three examples of over THIRTY found in scripture of God saying that HE will be the one to take care of making all things right in the end. Obviously God understands the gravity of the situation, and He has and will concern himself of making sure that everyone gets held to the same standard. It’s just that, that standard might not be exactly what we were thinking it would be.
See, God already knows something that most of us spend a lifetime learning. Forgiveness takes a whole lot less energy that revenge. If ANYONE in the universe could be justified in exacting revenge, wouldn’t it be the God who created it; perfect and put together?
But instead of holding us to His own perfect standard, God gives us ALL a different one if we so choose – the standard of grace – and all we have to do is accept it and walk in it.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV)
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Forgiveness offers freedom. Freedom from your past, freedom from the pain, freedom from the weight of having to carry all the junk that’s ever happened or been done to you around with you. Forgiveness if a gift. One that you’ve been given, and one that’s incredibly satisfying to give as well. Even when you don’t feel like or even think you can. Forgiveness has power. The power to change two lives. One from the person who gets forgiven, and even more incredibly from the person who gives the forgiveness. What we gain when we forgive, is so much more satisfying than anything we could ever feel from enacting revenge. Try it if you don’t believe me. And while there’s no earthly reason why it should be – it just simply is.
Next time you turn on a baseball game, you’ll probably see someone hit a ball over the fence. For his sake, I hope he puts his head down and runs – because forgiveness isn’t really a thing baseball players do well. But maybe someday they’ll learn that the only ones they’re hurting by beaning the guy later, is themselves. Giving a guy a free trip to first usually isn’t a good idea. Much in the same way, I hope you and I can get away from throwing metaphorical baseballs at each other in retaliation, and get ourselves to the hard, yet SO rewarding work of forgiveness. It’s the one thing in life that always feels like a home run.