Thoughts from the Pastor

Vengeance Is Not Ours

     There is a horribly familiar feeling about the news from Manchester. We are shocked for sure but perhaps not surprised. We are shocked by the horror of what happened, the senseless cruelty of it, but we knew something like this would happen again soon. We didn’t know where or when, but we did, somewhere in the back of our minds, know it would happen.

     Upon reflection, there is a common thread to many of these mass-killings, whether it is terrorism, the sort of ideology put forward by individuals like Jeremy Christian in the recent Portland, Oregon attacks, or indeed the mass-shootings in American schools. Despite the huge variations in ideology and politics, there is a single common thread which unites these murderers – a sense of vengeance. Vengeance coupled with a feeling of self-righteousness is a dangerous beast. A drive for vengeance hides our own darker nature from us, and gives us a confidence in our own conscience which allows for evil to burst forth.

     I am reminded of the movie Pulp Fiction in times like these and in particular the character played by Samuel L Jackson. It is a movie I watched in my youth and would not necessarily recommend today and yet I kept thinking of the character Jules Winnfield (played by Jackson), who throughout the movie would quote Ezekiel 25 to make himself feel justified and powerful before he would end someone’s life. “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.”

     But that quotation, like so many in the Bible, says the opposite of what some think it means. “Vengeance is mine” says the Lord – and again and again the scriptures of all religions say that means that vengeance does not belong to humans, but to God. Only God, all-knowing and all loving, can have that judgement. To presume to know the mind of God to the extent of ending life is not just mistaken, it is idolatry – putting our very selves in place of God.

     Our purpose, our task is not vengeance, but to do charity and good will. And while the murderer sought to divide and fragment our society by his evil actions, the people of Manchester have chosen to respond with love for brother and sister. They, and not the horrific voices of revenge, have shown us the way. They have responded to the worst of humanity with the best of what we are. And I pray God’s mercy that we can stay on that path.

     The world needs a peace witness again, not just to combat the vengeance driven ideology rampant in our world, but because it is the way of Christ. For much of our history the Church of the Brethren has provided that peace witness but lately it has been dwindling under pressure from a culture unwilling to listen. May we be strong enough in faith to drown out the voices of violence and vengeance with Christ’s peace, service, humility, and love.

                           ~ Pastor Nathan