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Can You Forgive, Not Avenge?

September 09, 2023

Can You Forgive, Not Avenge?

Can You Forgive, Not Avenge?

By Brooke Holt

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . .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. 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.” Romans 12:14, 17-21

For many years, I read this passage and did not think much about it, just as I prayed the Lord’s Prayer without major concern: “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 336, see also Matthew 6:11). I have certainly had people who upset me, disappointed me, hurt me; yet I did not struggle a great deal with unforgiveness. This year has been a very different story! As I have said many times, you can hurt me but do not go after my children or my husband. I become quite fiery and ready to defend and attack.

For fourteen months, I watched my husband get unfairly attacked by people within the church. On top of that, I saw all the repercussions their words and actions had on him personally and on our Diocese. It was grueling in every way! Sadly, the attacks, well-orchestrated by a small group of people intent upon their agenda of stopping the election, showed no apparent consideration for the majority in favor of it, only what they deemed to be right. That agenda drove them to many destructive actions which did not reflect the truth about my husband or the Diocese.

After all I have seen, heard, and experienced in the past fourteen months, does God really intend for me to bless and not curse, to live peaceably with these offenders, not to seek revenge, and to even do good to them? Yes! It seems preposterous to my flesh, but God’s Word has the final say.

During those long months, I have sought the Lord’s help to forgive and to embrace the healing that can only come from him. Often, I did just great until I heard a new report, saw something on social media, or even heard a name. Then my prayers and intent seemed to dissolve while my anger took back control of my heart and mind.

I have come to understand that forgiveness of these people is impossible for me. Jesus knew I would have days/months/years like this and spoke a divine reminder: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). With God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, even forgiveness of our worst enemies can become a reality. It takes daily surrender, trust, and reliance upon the Lord, but it can be done.

These divinely inspired words of Paul are not a suggestion but God’s instruction for how we are to live. It may not be easy to bless instead of curse, to do what is right, to live peaceably, to leave vengeance in the hands of the Lord, and to pray for those who have hurt you. Nevertheless, with God you can overcome anger and even your fiery desire to avenge your offenders.


Maybe these words are easy for you to read and digest today. Come back to them when it is not so easy. Allow yourself to feel the discomfort and challenge, and then seek the Lord’s power to do what you cannot do on your own. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Recommended Resource:

Honest Prayer

Our honest prayer before God is evidence that we understand the ways He loves, cherishes, sees, and hears us. Through prayer, we can acknowledge with Hagar, “You are the living One who sees me” (Genesis 16:14). When we pray, we are affirming the same. Why do we often hide from this privilege? Why do we avoid God, the One who sees us as we are and stands ready to provide and answer us in his holy, timely way? In this 8-week study on the prayers of Job, Ruth, Hannah, and David, grow your prayer life by facing your honest need and bringing your whole self before God. Acknowledging God as the One who guides your path can change your heart. It can take you past fear and into faith, strength, and hope.  Learn more about Honest Prayer.


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