Resisting the Urge to Retaliate

My sister and I used to play a game that could get us into trouble. It’s called “I Hit You Last” and here’s how it’s played:

While on the couch watching TV, one sibling hits the other on the arm or leg and says “I hit you last.” It is then the other sibling’s turn to do the same. The siblings must remain fairly quiet though, or a parent will call out from the other room, “Are you kids roughhousing on the couch?” Both siblings are obligated to respond in the negative, then one sibling will reach out and strike.

“I hit you last.”

You might think this a horrid game, or merely bizarre. And some of you are thinking, “Hey, that sounds like something I used to play.”

The thing about this game that keeps it from getting out of hand is that there’s one sure-fire way to end it. Here’s the final rule of the game:

Don’t hit back.

Since my sister is older than I by about three years, I was usually the first player to invoke the ultimate rule.*

A Very Biblical Game

This fun little childhood memory gets me thinking about Jesus. Not because I needed divine intervention when watching TV with my sister, but because he spoke of something similar to I Hit You Last.

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39.)

My sister and I didn’t slap each other’s cheeks, of course, but the principle applies. If I was tired of the game I could stop it by not hitting back, and so could she.

Some people hit or hurt others regardless of whether the victim is hitting back. This is the real application Jesus spoke to. Roman soldiers could order Jewish citizens around, and knock them silly if they felt it necessary to get the job done.

You probably won’t find yourself  being hit by the modern equivalent of a Roman soldier, yet some people are contentious and love a good argument.** Those people engage in a verbal game of I Hit You Last through their words, whether in person, through email, social media or old fashioned gossip around the neighborhood, in the office or at school.

In one of the most whiplash inducing passages in all of Scripture, the Bible tells us what to do with such foolishness.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5.)

So the Bible tells you to ignore foolishness and also not to ignore it. Which is it?

It depends, and that’s where the wisdom of I Hit You Last comes in. If answering the gossip is the equivalent of attempting to hit the person last, then don’t answer the gossip. But responding to the gossip doesn’t have to be an act of retribution. It might actually follow the advice Jesus gave soon after telling people to turn the other cheek.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44.)

There are three things in that short verse that can guide you in deciding how to respond to someone who has maligned you.

  1. Listen to what Jesus is telling you. You have the Spirit of Christ within you to guide you and give you wisdom. (John 14:26, Ephesians 1:17, James 1:5.)
  2. Love your enemies by doing good for them, because only that which is good can overcome evil. (Romans 12:20-21.)
  3. Pray for those who wrong you. Jesus tells you to do it, and it’s what he did himself. (Luke 23:33-34.)

These aren’t easy when you’ve been the victim of malicious gossip, or had your reputation attacked, or someone you trusted has revealed your secrets. Believe me, I know. There are things that happened years ago that I harbor resentment about. But I know the right path is to listen to Jesus, do acts of love for those people whether I feel loving or not, and pray for them.

So that’s what I do even when I don’t want to, and so can you.

***

*My sister and I get along great. Today’s her birthday so I figured I’d bring this post out from the archives.

**This post is not meant to address situations where a person is being abused or similarly hurt. If you or someone you know is being abused, it’s time to call the police. Nothing in the Bible prohibits this and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.

***

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13 Responses to Resisting the Urge to Retaliate

  1. Yes, my children play a game very similar. It’s called ‘”You Started It!” and it has the same rules, I think. Tbh they’re nowhere near as awful to one another as my sister and I were. Nowadays we get along great but we used to fight so viciously :-/

  2. Lynn Thaler says:

    Great message

    It takes strength to resist retaliation. I have gotten better at it, but could still use improvement.

  3. No need to answer that. Just thinking of him. Happy birthday to your Sister.

  4. Not retaliating goes SO against the grain. It is so much easier to keep the cycle of retribution going. Jesus modeled and taught so differently from what is our natural response.

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