Like the fictional Bruce Banner, things can get ugly when I get angry. I don’t have a problem managing physical manifestations of my anger, so – by the grace of God – I’m not going around punching walls or hitting anyone. However, my mind is often battling ugly thoughts (or worse, letting those poisonous ideas run free), and – even more saddening to me – ugly words still slip out sometimes, attacking the person whose actions have gotten me riled up (even if they didn’t realize it).
Regrettably, one of the excuses I (and maybe even you) fight with is the belief that we are permitted to return evil for evil. If someone sent an e-mail contradicting me at work, and I got a copy of it, my inclination is to blast back with another e-mail (to all recipients of the first, and maybe some managers, too) defending myself and making the other person look bad. When someone makes a speech online that mocks my beliefs, I start thinking about counter-arguments that would not only refute their claims, but also make them look like idiots to the world.
Of course, the Word of God clearly says otherwise about justifying evil responses in return for others evil done to us (see Romans 12:17-20, for instance), but this can still be a strong temptation.
One day Saul said to David, “I am ready to give you my older daughter, Merab, as your wife. But first you must prove yourself to be a real warrior by fighting the LORD’s battles.” For Saul thought, “I’ll send him out against the Philistines and let them kill him rather than doing it myself.”
1 Samuel 18:17 NLT
In the larger passage (verses 17-30), Saul tries twice to get David killed by the Philistines, under the guise of offering two of Saul’s daughters as brides for David. Obviously, this isn’t the sort of behavior that suits a king of God’s people, but even divinely-appointed kings are imperfect.
What is perhaps more shocking is the better-known account of when David, once he became king in Saul’s place, did almost exactly the same thing later on. After getting the wife of one of his soldiers pregnant, David sent this soldier (named Uriah) to his death in battle.
So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.”
2 Samuel 11:14-15 NLT
The full account, including the consequences of David’s choices, can be found in 2 Samuel 11:14-12:25. To me, this just adds more weight to the thought of, “What was David thinking?” There are so many bad choices that he makes in this story (which, by the way, gives the rest of us sinners encouragement that God is merciful when we ask for His forgiveness), but this one seems especially confounding in light of what Saul had done to David…twice!
- What if God spared Uriah in battle like He had helped David against the Philistines?
- Was David really interested in becoming like Saul, the king who had tried to kill him on multiple occasions?
- Or, did David think that since someone had sent him out to be killed, that it was OK for David to do the same?
This last belief is perhaps the most insidious. When we feel justified in harming others, because they (or someone else) harmed us in the same way, we are going down a bad, bad path. Instead, Jesus calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:38-48), and to repent of our own sins (Matthew 4:17).
So when I am driving home frustrated because of something that happened that day at work (or what I heard on the radio), I must fight those contrary thoughts. As we read the entire “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7), Jesus called us to a higher view of God’s instructions, ensuring that our hearts are right, and not just what people see or hear from us. As a result, even just dwelling on angry things that I’d like to say (or type out) to someone else is probably sinful. So, I pray a lot for God’s help at times like this, and need His strength to not give back the evil I have received (even when the offense was done maliciously), or to use bad things that other people said as a platform to harm others.
Whether it is bottled-up anger, or anything else that makes you want to “get back” at someone, we cannot use past offenses against us as excuses to inflict the same on others. If you struggle like me (or differently), I pray that we will together study these cautionary tales of sinful kings, as well as the teachings (and example) of Jesus, and live much more like Jesus than those who sin against us.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
- For your information, this passage does not make for a good child’s bedtime reading. I believe that it is a true recounting of events, but there are some things in there that might be hard to explain to small children. ↩