“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 . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:17-21
Yeah, yeah. I read that over and over and just couldn’t get my hands around it. It sounds good in theory, like love your neighbor and tithe and eat your broccoli. My therapist texted me this verse, with no comment but the underlying “read this, you idiot” and I went home and stared at the words while sucking down a re-heated breakfast taco. Then I folded laundry, and held my kids so tight they wondered what the heck had come over me, and after they went to bed I sat rocking back and forth like it might sway away the pain and swish out the hate and I then drank wine like the tannins might draw out forgiveness and tomorrow I’d wake up with a dull sense of benevolence.
But I just lay there in silence, drawing mental pictures of hate and revenge and the unfairness of this life. I curled up tight because all my prayers were spent and used up like tissues, all wadded up and tossed aside. I drug myself upstairs in the wee morning hours and typed out a long prayer and just demanded that God read it directly off my computer screen, because I was too angry to speak and all I could do was write in a choppy bulleted list. I sulked and stomped back to bed like an impetuous toddler that had just screamed at her father. Because honestly.
I want to repay evil with evil, and I am too tired and haggard to do what is right. Maybe I can just repay evil with a little tragic harm? The next day, I got pulled over for going 50 in a 40 and I sobbed big fat tears. I lay my tossled, unbrushed head of hair on the steering wheel because Enough Already. The officer just handed me a warning and a look that was as compassionate as I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he reached over right then and hugged me through the window. I just drove home with a tear-streaked face, going 20 miles per hour and lusting for a cheeseburger.
Sometimes, it’s easy to hate. Let’s not kid ourselves – it’s always easier to hate. Because this life is full of disappointment and pain and fear and when we put our trust in humanity it just bites us in the ass.
What’s hard, friends, is to love.
And I don’t mean love as in butterflies and roses and beautiful cards and elusive smiles on second dates. I don’t mean love your children or love your mother or love your BFF’s who come over and bring you brownies. I mean loving the man who betrayed you. Loving the stranger who raped you. Loving that father who beat you and the mother who abandoned you and that dirty, rotten, self-absorbed, abused pitiful self that you’ve been dragging around for so many decades.
Evil is banal and hideous and frankly, doesn’t deserve your respect. Because friends, you are above it. You are mightier than it is. You have the power of God crawling inside your veins and the Holy Spirit dancing in your vessels and your heart is made anew with light and life and freedom from the chains that only darkness brings.
So bring on the rain.
Let it pour and soak and drench you with sorrow. Lament and cry and curl and drink and scream. But in the end, realize that it doesn’t own you. Allow yourself to look at that man, woman, teacher, stranger, drug, depression, or self, and say: My God is more powerful than you. You can pound and beat down this house but you’ll never consume me. You are standing in this body and the walls might be falling down around you, but you aren’t dead yet, and you have power unimaginable. Power that moved mountains and raised the dead and caused the lame to walk.
When the mask is removed, that demon is just a poor needy child, so here’s a sip of cool water for that parched tongue, my sweet darling. I’ll sit with you and smile at your ugly and stroke your dirty, vodka-soaked hair. You hear me, darkness? You can’t survive with me around, because I’m all light up in here and rats flee and Satan runs and evil just bares his teeth but it’s all a mirage that disappears when I get close. Begone, you fool. I ain’t got time for your stupid, cunning ways.
What are you afraid of, anyway? That the person that hurt you most will get away with it? That they might take you for a fool? That they might get a free hall pass for all the damage they’ve caused? Oh dear friends, they will have to live with the consequences of sin, and vengeance is not yours to take. Make room and step aside as God enacts his own wrath. Our job is only to love, and love when it’s hard, and love when it’s not realized, and love even when we are bruised and torn and left alone in front of that mirage we thought was water. But we can repay evil with the pure, clear, smooth freedom of love, which washes much more clean.
And then nothing will ever chain us. Nothing will bind us. We can stretch out our wings and stand before God with bulleted lists of prayers fluttering to our feet, our soul smiling and our hair getting drenched with dew from heaven, and God’s redemption, and we can know that we are living, leading, learning. Uncurl. Unclench. Undo the chains around your hardened heart, and bring on the rain.
Overcome evil with good.