It's been said, "the person who seeks revenge digs two graves". The truth of that axiom can scarcely be better illustrated than by the soap opera-like saga involving disgraced former cabinet minister Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce. Just when we thought that the bottom had been reached in British political life following the recent scandals over MPs' expenses and 'cash for access', new depths have been reached in the revelations of adultery, deception, manipulation, vengeance and perverting the course of justice which have torn apart a family and ruined reputations and careers.
The fact that this sorry story has been played out in the full glare of the media spotlight does not, of course, mean that it is unique. Indeed, we have all at some point, if we are human, not only been tempted to lie, but we have probably all desired, if not enacted, revenge in some form, against those who have wronged us. It is a very natural human feeling to want to pay someone back for the damage or wrong they may have inflicted upon us. However, many of us make the mistake of thinking that revenge is the means whereby we right a wrong – that it's actually a form of justice. We argue that the perpetrators must not get away with it; justice requires that they get their 'come-uppance'.
The sad truth is, though, that we see ourselves as being the ones who need to ensure that the offenders get what they deserve. We forget that the phrase "Vengeance is mine" (Deuteronomy 32:35) was originally coined by God, not Alice Cooper. Why? Well, usually it's because we don't trust God to do the job to our satisfaction. He might just let the offender off, as he did the Ninevites after Jonah had preached to them. And also, since God doesn't settle his accounts every Friday afternoon, we're inclined to feel a bit impatient and take matters into our own hands.
Revenge is supposed to be sweet. In reality, it rarely is. The writer Philip Yancey put it well when he said, "The problem with revenge is that it never gets what it wants; it never evens the score. Fairness never comes. The chain reaction set off by every act of vengeance always takes its unhindered course. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalator of pain. Both are stuck on the escalator as long as parity is demanded, and the escalator never stops, and it never lets anyone off."
Not surprisingly, therefore, the Bible speaks of another way. The Apostle Paul wrote, "Do not take revenge, my friends…but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:19,21). Jesus also made a fairly radical statement in the Sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies, rather than living by the 'eye for an eye', tit-for-tat principle. Tony Campolo has commented that he periodically asks secularised university students if they can recall anything specific that Jesus said. The one thing they almost invariably remember is "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Matthew 5:44). None of the other great religions or faith tell their adherents to do that.
The truth is, if we seek revenge, we become like our enemies, whereas if we forgive, we become like Jesus. The very essence of the Christian Gospel is that God responded to our sin and disobedience not with spite or a desire to get even, but with an undeserved grace that sought reconciliation as well as justice, a combination that could only be achieved at the cross.
Before his resignation, Chris Huhne served in Government as the Climate Change Secretary. What our nation needs now, more than ever, is a climate change socially and spiritually. When Christians set the example by forgiveness rather than exacting revenge, it makes an impact. Jesus wanted us to be like a light on a hill, unmistakeably noticeable. By shunning revenge and the temptation to get even, one can scarcely think of a better way for us to set in motion the kind of climate change that we need most.