The Logic of Revenge

I lead a short-term discipleship group on Wednesday nights.  I ask a few people to give me ten Wednesday nights, and then I use those ten Wednesday nights to show those people how I hear from God (receive input from God, interact with God, am guided or directed by God; whichever term you prefer).  I used the whiteboard in my office during these Wednesday nights, depicting the ideas I am teaching with some images my mentors taught me.

A couple Thursdays ago, I came in to the office to find this on the board:

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What really stumped me about this was that little bit on the right side which says “Kill everybody” and “be nice”.  For a minute, I wondered what that was all about.  “What did I say last night?” I asked myself.  Then I remembered: I was using the story of David and Nabal as an example of the discipleship (or learning) circle I was teaching.

We find David and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25.  During his outlaw years, David and his men watched over Nabal’s sheep.  When they asked for payment for this protection, Nabal refused them.  In anger, David told his men to strap on their sword, promising to kill every male in Nabal’s house.  (The KJV says David promises to kill “any that pisseth against the wall”; forgive my immature potty mind, but I just find that funny.)

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Fortunately, Nabal’s wife Abigail, whom I greatly honor and call “the woman who stopped a war”, heard about this and intercepted David.  She gave him a gift and talked him down, so that he abandoned his bloody plans.

That in itself is a great story.  What makes it greater, though, is something I once heard a preacher say about this story.  This preacher (whose name and face I have forgotten) spoke in a chapel service at my Bible college.  He spoke on this passage.  And what he said as he discussed the first part of the passage is that David had seen “the logic of revenge”.

What a great line.  That line is so great that I have remembered it ever since.  I have heard hundreds if not thousands of sermons, and I can only remember a handful of them.  I can only remember a handful of things I heard from them (many of the ones I can’t remember did their jobs and affected my life, so that’s not a slight against them; it is just true that I don’t remember any of them).  I remember this sermon, though.  I remember this line.

And I think it is right.  Revenge, as I think we all know, is a sinful thing.  We know it is forbidden in several places in the Bible (Romans 12:19 et al).  I personally find it to be repulsive.  I’m sure you do as well.

I personally find it repulsive when other people do it, that is.  When I do it (or am tempted to do it), it doesn’t seem so repulsive.  It seems logical, reasonable, right.  That’s what this preacher was talking about with this phrase “the logic of revenge”.  Killing all the innocent people in a house for the sins of the head of the house seemed logical at the time to David.  It clearly isn’t, as we can all see.  But it seemed logical to him at the time.

That’s the problem with this sin and any sin.  It always seems logical at the time.  It always has a logic to it.  It might not be a good logic; it might be a shallow and senseless as Helen Lovejoy’s logic here, but it is a logic nonetheless.

God, though, speaks a different logic, a superior logic.  By the grace of God, David heard that different, superior from God through Abigail.  By the grace of God, we can likewise hear a different, superior logic from God and be led on a different, superior path than the one we are blazing for ourselves.  That’s what I tried to teach my group that Wednesday night.  I forgot it was what I taught them, but it was, and it is good.  There is “the logic of revenge”.  There is a logic to all sinful, destructive acts.  But God is offering us a greater logic.  May we hear Him.

A Sliding Scale

I told you yesterday about the “advance” I had with men from my congregation and a few other congregation.  I talked about the petition “Lead us not into temptation” from the Model Prayer of Matthew 6/Luke 11 at that advance.  As part of my time, I explained to the men that there were two ways to live, each of which went to a different destination, a fact I illustrated with this picture:

As I said yesterday, the men often spoke up during my time, asking me questions or even challenging my conclusions.  One of them did just that, telling me that instead of depicting the “lead us not” concept as the choosing of one destination over another I should depict it as a sliding scale.

This same idea came up at a discipleship group I led last night.  We read Matthew 12:22-32 to start the group, and one of the guys there said Jesus’ teaching about “whoever is not with me is against me” reminded him of this sliding scale concept.  He said that the more he walked toward Jesus, the less he walked toward both the negative acts of temptation as well as the neutral things that are just “not Jesus”.  He also said it worked the other way as well, that the more he walked toward either negative or neutral things, the less he walked toward Jesus.

And I wholeheartedly agreed with that.  I think discipleship is a sliding scale like that.  Or, to use a term I like even better, it is a spectrum.

By nothing more than the very nature of things, the more you move toward one end of a spectrum, the more you move away from the other end of the spectrum and vice versa.  It is not puritanical, patriarchal, Victorian, or any other negative adjective that might be (and often are) thrown at it.  It is just the nature of things.

That being the case, Jesus’ statement in Matthew 12:30 about whoever not being for Him being against Him seems less harsh and much more sensible.  It is nothing more than a fact, nothing more than that sliding scale or spectrum.

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And that, again, shows just how good and important this “lead us not into temptation” idea is.  Temptation is on the other side of the scale/spectrum from Jesus.  If we walk to it, we are not just “sinning”; we are moving away from Jesus, from God, from the Kingdom.  The central question, then, becomes not “What can I get away with?” (which was the question me and my peers were always asking in youth group” or “Why is God so black-and-white?”, but rather, “What side of the scale/spectrum do I want to be on?”

Or, to put it another way:

Not-Kingdom

Every dog has his day.

As it turns out, every Doug has his day as well.  Such was the case for me last Friday at my congregation’s annual retreat (which for some reason we call an advance).  We invite other congregations to this advance, which we hold at the beautiful Alliance Redwoods campground.   We had men from at least four congregations there, maybe even more (I didn’t know everyone so I’m not sure where they all were from).

The theme I wanted us to focus on at this advance was “Lead Us Not Into Temptation”, one of the petitions our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to make in His “Model Prayer” in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:1-4 (also called “the Lord’s Prayer” and “the Our Father”).  I’ve been praying this prayer for years and have found that this particular petition has had a huge impact on my life.  I thought it and it’s mirror-image petitions found in other parts of the Bible (“He leadeth me beside still waters”, Psalm 23; “Lead us in the way everlasting”, Psalm 139) would be as helpful for the men as it was for me, so that’s what we talked about.  I took the “negative” in the first session, allowing the other pastors to speak on the “positives” on Saturday.  Here are my notes for that Friday night session:

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As you can see, there isn’t a lot there for a 45 minute talk.  I basically “free form it” at the advance, just talking from a rough outline.  It isn’t hard to do as I’m always talking about discipleship, which is just the way I live and thus fairly easy to talk about without advance preparation.  The fact that the men usually interrupt me with questions and other ideas helps keep it moving, too.

During that lecture time, I came up with a phrase that I hadn’t engineered beforehand.  That phrase was “not-Kingdom”.  I came up with that as I was trying to explain that Jesus’ concern about not falling into temptation and/or walking in the way everlasting is not an example of “hand-wringing morality” (as I’ve often heard it called) but rather about “living into the Kingdom”.  I use the phrase “living into the Kingdom” a lot.  But that night, as I tried to express the same beautiful concept, I just somehow said “Jesus wants us to stay away from everything that is ‘not-Kingdom’.”

And the men loved that phrase.  One of the speakers the next day told the entire group that was the best thing I said that night (I thought I said some other worthy things as well, but, hey, I’ll take it!), and one of our guys told me last night he’s been thinking of that all week.  So that was the preacher equivalent of a home run.

But there is more to that phrase than just crowd-pleasing.  There is a truth there, a truth which is fairly foundational to discipleship.  This really is what sin is: something that is “not-Kingdom”, not like Christ, not of God, and thus detrimental, destructive, etc.  This really is why Jesus and God emphasize it so much, why They want us to stay away from or out of it so badly: it is the opposite of Them and Their ways.

And when you understand it that way, not only does the phrase “Lead us not into temptation” make more sense, but discipleship itself makes more sense.  It makes complete sense that God would want us to not walk in the things that are not-Kingdom/not-Him and to walk in the things that are-Kingdom/are-Him.  We’re not talking archaic patriarchal repression here (or any of the other silly things call the way of God).  We’re talking Kingdom here.  We’re talking God and the ways of God and the things of God.  We’re talking about what is right and good and healthy.

And it’s not just that understanding which is helpful.  It is that prayer/petition which is helpful.  I have greatly helped by praying to God “lead me out of what is not Kingdom”, whether that is obvious things like sexual immorality or less obvious things like anger, selfishness, competition, etc.  I have been greatly helped by praying to God “lead me into green pastures and beside still waters/lead me in the way everlasting”, whether that be obvious things like purity or less obvious things like peace-making, humility, acceptance.  It really has changed my life for the better.

I think it can do the same for us all.  “Not-Kingdom” might be a crude phrase, but it is a great one nonetheless, a phrase that reminds me who I am and what my life in Christ is all about.