This nation has come to view victim status as a path to power. The ugly protests, vandalism, murders and other anti-social behavior of the last weeks has been, in many ways, a confrontation between two sides both claiming to be most aggrieved. This is why the claim that all sides have a point has been so volatile – it is a competition to be the “biggest victim,” because that is perceived as the path to power – declaring both sides aggrieved means there is no winner and that is intolerable.
But is victim status really a path to power or is it a path to something else? Given the anti-social behaviors we have witnessed in these weeks, one must wonder. Certainly murder is the most egregious anti-social behavior, but these weeks have been marked with far more – vandalism, riots and near-riots, human wast bombs, and the level of on-line trolling has gone from hideous to galactic overlord level. Such behavior is about inflicting pain, not leading – holding power in this instance seems to be about the ability to get away with it rather than establish using power for what it is meant to be used for. These parties that perceive themselves as aggrieved seem more interested in vengeance than in actual power.
The prophet Isaiah says that power, genuine leadership, is about “seeking justice” and “speeding the cause of righteousness:”
In love a throne will be established;
in faithfulness a man will sit on it—
one from the house of David—
one who in judging seeks justice
and speeds the cause of righteousness.
Vengeance is not justice and none of the anti-social behavior we have witnessed is righteous, I don’t care who does it. Aggrieved status does not justify such behavior nor does it assign one the role of judge and jury. Most people, even non-Christians, know of Paul’s admonition to the church in Rome:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
But they do not always know the source of Paul’s quotation “It is mine to avenge….” This quote comes from Deuteronomy, when Israel wandered the desert. It is part of the speech Moses gave to the Israelites as guidance on how to be a nation. The quote about feeding a hungry enemy is from Proverbs – a book of wisdom from the king of the now well established nation of Israel, reminding his nation that they are a good people – a righteous nation. Justice, it seems, is only possible in the context of righteousness. Acting unrighteously in response to injustice does not achieve justice, but simply continues a cycle of injustice.
The reason why this works this way should be obvious, if we can step back from our own personal perspective for but a minute. Everyone has suffered some injustice. Everyone is prone to unrighteous behavior. Everybody has made somebody else a victim, and thus we are all in some situation a victim. Real power, genuine power comes from uniting people in their shared weakness and then using that power to achieve good.
This Sunday I morning, I pray for good.