October 16, 2009
Bobby Higginbotham said when he was asked to speak on "revenge" during an Oklahoma Baptist University chapel service on Oct. 14, he didn't think he could relate to the topic. "Revenge" is a strong emotion. But the church planter from the Pacific Northwest told the students a story - familiar to some - which conveyed an understandable opportunity for revenge.
Higginbotham told about five young Christian missionaries who literally gave their lives following their passion to reach the Auca Indians of Ecuador with the Gospel message. Six days after establishing a camp, Jim Elliott, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming and their pilot, Nate Saint, were massacred on January 8, 1956, by the traditionally violent tribe. The story of the martyrs was told in the 2005 movie, "End of the Spear."
"If I was a person who lost a loved one that day, I would be mad," Higginbotham said, noting two family members - Elliott's wife, Elisabeth, and Saint's sister, Rachel - would later have an opportunity to interact with the Auca tribe who killed their loved ones.
He said revenge would seem justified in this story, quoting Leviticus 24:17, which states: "If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death." However, Higginbotham pointed out, Scripture doesn't end with Leviticus' law which would seem to fuel a bitter, angry, eye-for-eye mentality.
The message reflected Chapter 12, focused on revenge, in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book, "The Cost of Discipleship." The book is the foundation of the year's chapel theme, "Costly Illumination: Counting Everything Loss in Light of the Surpassing Worth of Knowing Christ."
Bonhoeffer begins his chapter on revenge with a Scripture passage from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."
Higginbotham said the Scripture and the topic raised, for him, three questions related to revenge: "When have I personally wanted to take revenge on someone?" "If Jesus really commanded us to turn the other cheek, how do we respond?" and "If revenge isn't an option for me, how will those who wrong me be brought to justice?"
To answer the first question, he recalled an incident in his personal life when an acquaintance unjustly harassed he and his wife: first, the woman disagreed with Higginbotham's pastoral counseling for her sister about marriage; and second, the woman believed a $300 credit Higginbotham received for an apartment referral belonged to her.
He said the answer to the second question is simple: Respond in love. He based his answer on Matthew 22:37-39: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself."
"You are called to love unconditionally," Higginbotham said. "You're called to love out of the overflow of your heart and the relationship you have with Jesus.
"Ultimately, the truth of the Gospel is that each one of us has spit in the face of Jesus. He has chosen to love us anyway. He has chosen to continue to offer grace to us. That makes our petty differences - the things that go wrong in our lives, the things we want to take revenge for - look so small, look so minute, look so insignificant."
Higginbotham said in response to his own conflict, he and his wife chose to give the woman $300, although they personally had received a credit, not the actual money. They told the woman they were giving it not of their own goodwill, but because they love Jesus and Jesus loves her.
Bonhoeffer answered the third question about justice, Higginbotham reported. He said Christians must have "patient endurance," waiting and praying that the people who are wrong will find faith in Jesus Christ. When Christians endure, Higginbotham said, God is glorified, and people will come to know Him.
Higginbotham finished the story of the Auca Indians, and the endurance of Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint. In 1958, Saint, Elliot and her daughter, Valerie, who was only 10 months when her father died, began living with the Aucas. In time, they learned the tribe had been misinformed about the purpose of the five missionaries' visit. The tribe had been told the men intended to harm them. Elliot and Saint practiced the epitome of patient endurance, and some of the tribe found faith in Jesus Christ.
That, Higginbotham said, is the Christian's appropriate alternative to revenge.