||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Vengeance Is Not Mine
By: Dale Recinella
“Well, he’s getting what he deserves.”
No names are necessary. Those within earshot know who my friend is talking about. The date is June 11, 2001. Anyone and everyone in America knows that the guy who is getting what he deserves today is Timothy McVeigh.
“And I read that a lot of people who are against the death penalty think he deserves it. What do you say to that?”
“You know, friend, in the last fifteen years I’ve been with many people when they were dying or getting ready to die. Younger, older, poor and rich. Street people, inmates, politicians and lawyers. People dying of cancer or AIDS or just plain dying. Every single one of them prayed for God to be merciful, to give them better than what they deserved. I’ve never yet been with a dying person who prays for God to deal with them justly and give them what they deserve.”
“There you go again. What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything. We don’t want God to come down to our level when He deals with us. Why do we come down to a murderer’s level when we deal with him?”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Vengeance by man is God’s plan. It says so right in the Bible.”
“Not in my Bible. Where does it say that in your Bible?”
“In Genesis, at the very beginning. God tells Cain that if anyone kills him, Cain will be avenged seven times. That’s God mandating vengeance as a way to control people’s murderous tendencies.”
“Let’s think that through. Isn’t God saying that in response to Cain? What did Cain say first?’
“It’s right here. Cain says: ‘And it shall come to pass, that everyone that findeth me shall slay me.’ Cain killed his brother who was a good and innocent man. Cain knows he’s dead meat.”
“You’re right. And if everyone who findeth Cain shall slay him, who in the whole world would there be to avenge Cain seven times?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You said it yourself. No one wants Cain to live. Cain knows that everyone will slay him. So who is left to avenge Cain’s execution seven times?”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that everyone minus everyone equals no one. Based on Scripture, even your version, there is no one in the whole world to avenge Cain’s murder. The only person who can be standing ready to avenge the murder of Cain is God.”
“But human vengeance is in the Old Testament.”
“Yes, it is. Vengeance by man sneaks in through Lamech, five generations after Cain. Lamech employs escalating retaliatory human violence, the Law of the Clan. He proclaims that he is avenged seventy times. God describes this reality of human vengeance to Noah in the Rule of Blood. It’s clear from Scripture that the world after Lamech employs escalating human vengeance. The question for us is whether God desires this or reserves vengeance unto himself. Moses undoes Lamech and brings the people closer to where God started by limiting human vengeance to one life for one life. Just like divorce, it may have been the best Moses could do in the face of the peoples’ hardness of heart. Finally, Jesus takes us back to where God started. He tells us to return good for evil because vengeance is the Lord’s.”
“So you’re saying that a person who commits a heinous crime should go unpunished?”
“No. Exile in prison is punishment enough for this world. But vengeance, the taking of a life for a life, that belongs to God. At least that’s what the Bible says.”
First published: The Florida Catholic, June 28, 2001
© 2001 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed