Key Scriptures: Jonah, Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 3:9, Matthew 5:38-39, Proverbs 24:29, Leviticus 19:18, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Mark 11:25, Matthew 26:52-54, Proverbs 20:22, Matthew 5:7, Ephesians 4:31-32, Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 19:11, Psalm 37:8-9, 2 Timothy 2:22-26, James 3:17
(Note: The studies quoted in this lesson are from the article in American Psychological Association Science Watch article “Revenge and the People Who Seek It” June 2009 Vol. 40, No. 6. The theology in the article is bad, but the studies prove helpful for this discussion.)
Guiding Question: How does God feel about revenge?
Optional Introductory Activity: Show students photos of the Jews rescued from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp after WWII. Read descriptions of Life Before the Holocaust found at https://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/voices/testimonies/life/backed/before.html. Students should be familiar with other books about the Holocaust like The Diary of Anne Frank. Ask students how they might have felt if they had been a person that went through the horrors of the Holocaust, but survived. What would they have been tempted to do to their tormentors once they became physically strong again? What would they have done if they had been unable to recover the things they had once owned, but the Nazis had stolen from them?
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Tell students the story of Jonah. As background, you may wish to help them understand the cruelty of the Assyrians, that caused Jonah to feel so negatively about them. This article has some great information. https://searchinginhistory.blogspot.com/2015/02/cruelty-instrument-of-assyrian-control.html
After learning about the cruelty of the Assyrians, how do you feel about Jonah’s reaction when God told him to go to Nineveh? Do you believe he was justified in his response? Why or why not?
When Jonah finally reached Nineveh, he preached to them as God had asked him to do. You would think three days in the belly of a big fish would have given Jonah a new perspective on the people of Nineveh, but his reaction to their repentance tells a different story. Why do you think Jonah was upset when the people of Nineveh repented? What did he want to happen to them? What was his motivation for wanting their destruction? Do you believe he would have felt better if God had destroyed the people of Nineveh? Why or why not?
It seems like a pretty natural reaction. When someone hurts us or the people we love, we want to punish them. We want them to hurt as badly, if not worse, than they hurt us. We believe they deserve whatever bad things happen to them. We believe that taking revenge on them will lessen our pain and make us feel better. We convince ourselves that after we get our revenge on them, things will be right again.
God, however, has a very different way He wants His people to respond when someone hurts them or someone they love. What He commands us to do is in fact the exact opposite of revenge. God knows that the desire for revenge comes from anger and shame. Feeding those emotions by taking revenge on someone, makes those emotions stronger, not weaker. What started out as anger can quickly turn into rage, bitterness, hate and lead to a variety of sinful actions as well.
Before we look at what the Bible teaches us about revenge, let’s look at one more quick story. On the night Jesus was betrayed, soldiers came to lead him away. Peter pulled out his weapon and lopped off the ear of one of the soldiers. But read what happens in Matthew 26:52-54. Jesus knew what was about to happen. One could argue Peter was taking revenge in advance, but Jesus immediately healed the soldier. We don’t know what eventually happened to that soldier, but what if being healed by Jesus – the love and mercy Jesus demonstrated towards him – changed the soldier. He may have even become a Christian later, which would not have been possible had Peter killed him.
Now let’s read what else God wants us to know about revenge. Some of these passages may not use the word revenge, but they address the emotions that can cause one to seek revenge or retaliate in some way.
- 1 Peter 3:9. Don’t repay evil with evil
- Romans 12:17-21. Don’t repay evil with evil, overcome evil with good
- Matthew 5:38-39. Turn the other cheek
- Proverbs 24:29. Don’t say I will do to him what he has done to me
- Leviticus 19:18. No vengeance or grudges, love your neighbor as yourself
- 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Don’t repay evil for evil but always seek to do good
- Mark 11:25. If you have anything against anyone, forgive so God will forgive you
- Proverbs 20:22. Don’t say I will repay evil wait for the Lord to deliver you
- Matthew 5:7. Blessed are the merciful
- Ephesians 4:31-32. No bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, malice
- Proverbs 10:12. Hatred stirs up strife
- Proverbs 19:11. Good sense is slow to anger, glory to overlook an offense
- Psalm 37:8-9. Refrain from anger, forsake wrath, fret not as it tends only to evil
- 2 Timothy 2:22-26. Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, patiently enduring evil, correcting opponents with gentleness
- James 3:17. Wisdom from Heaven is peace loving, considerate, full of mercy, peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness
Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. As is often the case, science has found the Bible is right. Studies have shown that instead of making people feel better and allowing you to move on with your life, revenge can leave you stuck in the cycle of pain and anger and leave you feeling just as unhappy as before. They found that in individualistic cultures like the U.S. we often want to seek revenge out of anger – especially when we feel our rights have been violated. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand seek revenge when they believe they or someone they love has been shamed in front of the community by the actions of another. Neither motivation for revenge is excused by God.
Scientists also found that even though everyone believes they will feel better once revenge is served to their opponents, self reported happiness was higher in those who resisted taking revenge and put the incident behind them. Sounds a lot like forgiveness, doesn’t it?
Some people will struggle more with feelings of revenge than others. Scientists found that people who are motivated by power, authority and the desire for status are struggle more with feeling a need to take revenge. Why would those character traits lead to someone being more likely to want to take revenge on someone? Are they godly character traits? What are the corresponding character traits or motivations would lead to someone being less likely to want to take revenge on someone? Do any of the scriptures we read early support your theory? Can you think of scriptures we haven’t read in this lesson that might support your theory?
The answer is to focus on letting go of your anger and forgiving the other person, before the desire for revenge can grow. What are some things you can do to help you avoid the anger and revenge cycle when someone hurts you or someone you love? (Encourage students to brainstorm ideas. Here are some areas you should include in the conversation.)
- Scripture reading
- Scripture memorization
- Calming routine https://www.healthline.com/health/anger-management-exercises#seeking-help
- Do something good or kind for the other person (Brainstorm specific ideas)
- Pray for the other person
- Reframe what happened Instead of assuming the worst, assume the best. The person may have done what he or she did accidentally or not even realized they hurt you in some way. Thinking the best of others quenches anger before it can take root.
When someone hurts you, it is important to remember that you cannot control their behaviors and attitudes, even if you take revenge. They must make the choice to change. Taking revenge is more likely to cause them to want to hurt you again, creating a never ending cycle of anger and revenge. This cycle will only hurt you and will most likely keep you from becoming who God planned for you to be and do the good works He wanted you to do.
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures and the strategies from the lesson. Is there someone who has made you angry? Are you tempted to take revenge on them for what they did? What are some things you can do to forgive the person and move on from the incident without seeking revenge?