This is a subject that I have always found fascinating. What is it with the human desire for revenge? What is revenge? How does it benefit anyone? How did we evolve into creatures that think that an "eye for an eye" sets the world right. I don't know who said it. But, I think it's brilliant. "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless." But, from the time we are children, there's an instinct to "get even". If you strike me, I strike you back.
I'm not exempt from this desire. I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty. But, when I hear of a mother who kills her child or people who rape and torture people, I want to make an exception. My lower nature takes over. When someone makes me angry, my immediate response is to do something back to him/her. But, "why?" I ask myself. I'm no pacifist. I believe in self-defense. I think it's necessary. I also believe in punishment for wrongs. Punishment is necessary. But, punishment can be given for one of two reasons- either retributive punishment (pay back) or rehabilitative* punishment which is intended to deter the undesired behavior from happening again in the future. Note the word, future. While the actions taken to punish someone might be exactly the same, the intent makes all the difference in the world. As a father, if one of my daughters does something wrong, I reserve the right to punish her or not to punish her. But, I never punish her because she "deserves" it or to pay her back for something she's done to me or someone else. I punish her to teach her a lesson. I punish her to give her an undesired consequence to an action so that she won't do it again. The punishment may be more severe or less severe depending on the offense. But, if for some reason, I believe the punishment is unnecessary I simply do not punish her.
Let's contrast this with the notion of "justice" that we pin on G-d. Because G-d is "just", supposedly G-d has no choice but to punish us for our "sins". G-d's role of judge overrides G-d's desire as a Heavenly Father. G-d has less leeway in the punishment department than I do. Taking it even further, every sin is an offense against G-d who is infinitely good, therefore He's infinitely offended and every sin is worth of death and/or eternal torment.
A good friend of mine simply cannot fathom that I cannot fathom this type of "justice". But, it is pure nonsense to me. The whole penal substitution atonement theory in which G-d has to pay Godself a price for our sins therefore sends an innocent man who is really G-d to die in our stead just doesn't work. If an offense is "paid" for it's not forgiven, it's paid. So, we're told Jesus paid the price for our sins. OK so far. But, wait. You have to accept the payment for it to count? Huh? Say what? So, if I have a loan out with the bank (G-d in this analogy) and someone else (Jesus) pays my mortgage, the bank will still come after me for the money even though they have it in their pocket? G-d's a double dipper?
Mike (in the umpteenth time trying to explain this to me) came up with this analogy:
So, the notion here is that if we forgive an offense us we are not only out the initial pain, we are taking a second hit. Also, the notion here is that somehow hitting someone back makes things right. It cancels the ledger. Even more bizarre, if some third party agrees to allow me to hit him in the stead of the guy who hit me, I'm somehow "restored" to full health.
May I give an example: Johnny hits Billy and Johnny is not sorry but rather proud of himself for doing so. Billy wants to hit Johnny back; its a matter of stature, pride, show of individual strength and self-sufficiency etc.. This is all natural and RIGHT! Johnny DESERVES to be hit back. Now, what if Johnny says he is sorry to Billy. Well, Billy can, if he so chooses, forgive Johnny. Billy takes it and keeps it, but by forgiving Johnny, Billy shows spiritual maturity. BUT, look at it, Billy has taken the pain TWICE: he took it from the first strike and from not hitting back, which he would have wanted to do. However, what if Johnny had moved BEFORE he felt remorse. He wants to say sorry, but he has no idea where Billy is. Johnny says sorry to Jesus and Jesus takes the SECOND pain that Billy would have taken. Billy will be compensated later for his pain.
I say "no" to this notion. It's an infantile mind that thinks by hitting someone back we are gaining something. We know this. We teach this to our children. Then, we forget the lesson ourselves. The mature person realizes first of all, that hitting back accomplishes nothing as far as setting the record right. And, secondly any act I take to diminish another human being ultimately diminishes all of us, myself included.
I have to admit something. I used to be a proponent of capital punishment. After all it's in the Bible. And, if G-d is willing/able to send people to eternal torment for not being part of the right church, surely it makes sense for us to dispatch someone to justice if they rape, torture and/or murder. But, once I began to really think about this and how little sense it made for G-d to eternally torment His creation, the notion of capital punishment began to fall apart for me.
This is not to say that wrong actions don't or shouldn't have consequences. Any act that diminishes another human being is wrong and will have negative consequences. Sometimes, it makes sense to make sure negative actions are punished (see rehabilitative punishment above). But, it's way past time for us to evolve beyond an eye for an eye thinking.
Forgiveness is not just for the forgiven. It's not a gift. It's a recognition that nothing can change the past. "Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past "is one of my favorite sayings. It's a recognition of what your grandmother told you "Two wrongs don't make a right.". It's not absorbing more pain, it's not even saintly. It just makes sense.
* footnote- in the case of the criminal justice system there are those times when physical restraint (incarceration) is necessary to prevent a criminal from re-offending. This I don't see so much as punishment as I do the protection of society. It is not paying the criminal back nor is it rehabilitating him. It is physically removing the ability for him to do the act again.