Revenge Revisited

In the movie The Interpreter, the character Silvia Bromme (Nicole Kidman) speaks of her commitment to non-violence saying “Revenge is a lazy form of grief.” Tobin Keller (Sean Penn), who is a federal agent protecting her, is mourning the senseless death of his wife and admits that he would gladly and swiftly take revenge on the one who caused the death of his beloved.  He admired other modes of grief from afar.


Is revenge really a lazy form of grief?  Is it even a form of grief?


I can remember, still with knots in my stomach, events in which I was wronged and longed to make things right by a sharp word (that came to me a tad too late) or a swift kick (that would have had me thrown out of the game).   My desire for revenge has more often come in response to assaults to my person, rather than those I love – although there has been more than enough of the latter too.  So, while revenge may be a form of grief, I tend to think of it more as a form of preventative defense: I will respond to your violence with violence in kind, or with the threat of violence that holds you at bay.


My parents, however, taught me that vengeance isn’t mine to exact: it is the Lord’s, or the teacher’s, or the judicial system.  Sometimes I listen to their now internalized voices; sometimes not.  But even when I do, still doubt nags.  Will my honour truly be returned; my right to fair treatment finally fulfilled?  Giving up vengeance always seemed, and seems, to be a waiting game.


But maybe we can make of it another kind of waiting game; a flip from waiting for to waiting on.  While waiting for vengeance, we can wait on others needing recompense: victims of economic violence, those beaten by racial stereotypes, children deprived of hope, etc.  When we wait on while we wait for we discover a most amazing thing: waiting on becomes a waiting with which brings me back to grief.


Grief’s condolence is accompaniment.  Those who suffer with others find – not exactly erasure of suffering – but the possibility of experiencing hope in suffering, in grief, in lament.  Such hope seems to dissipate the press for vengeance.  Maybe vengeance isn’t the Lord’s so much because it is God’s to exact, but rather God’s to absorb.  And maybe waiting with victims while waiting on them gives us something different to wait for: justice graced by love and righteousness kissed by peace.

15 thoughts on “Revenge Revisited

  1. diannegray says:

    My husband was the victim of a savage random assault in the early 90s. He lost his left eye and was in hospital for many weeks. The thing that intrigued me was the fact that I had so many people come to me and tell me they would take revenge on his attacker. There were construction workers, police (who were relatives), a bikie gang (my husband had saved the life of a man who happened to be one of their members three years before) and the Irish mafia (total strangers to me)! I spent months appeasing these people and telling them I did not want anything to happen to this man who attacked my husband. I did not want to be responsible for the life of another person and it wasn’t up to anyone, other than the court system to deal with him. It was exhausting trying to stop these people! But I could understand where they were coming from. The fellow eventually pleaded guilty and was jailed. But I often think back to that time and know if I wasn’t the kind of person I am, the attacker would probably have been severely injured or dead and this is something I would never have been able to live with.

  2. agjorgenson says:

    Wow, that is an astounding story! There seems to be a deep seated anger at injustice which is part of being human, but that manifests itself in astoundingly diverse ways (some healthy and some not). Thanks for commenting!

  3. jannatwrites says:

    I don’t see revenge as grief. It’s a reaction – like you wrote…a defense. I have gotten revenge in the form of a hurtful word or action and I’ve found that it doesn’t repair the harm that was done to me. It only made it worse because I got the added load of guilt and shame for my reaction.

  4. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for your comment Janna! I agree, revenge most often means guilt, shame and further complications. I guess our impatience pushes us on when we know it is best to leave things be…

  5. dianerivers says:

    This is such a rich line: ” Maybe vengeance isn’t the Lord’s so much because it is God’s to exact, but rather God’s to absorb.” How like God that sounds. I love that.

    I do think it’s human to long for justice and to be frustrated when it is not seen or experienced. It makes sense to want to take matters into our own hands, as ill-advised as that almost always is.

    Waiting for, to waiting on, to waiting with – what a wonderful progression to ponder.

  6. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks Dianne for your generous comments. I agree that it is human to long for justice, and not necessarily really a bad thing. The problem seems to be our propensity to twist justice into a self-justifying revenge that begins a down-ward spiral. But, to be honest, it really pains me to see justice denied. It is also hard to admit that justice isn’t always so easy to define. Lots to think about!

  7. Appreciate that offence is God’s to absorb. Agree we get hurt but what act of revenge can instruct ignorance? The truly ignorant, perhaps, did not benefit from the wisdom of teachings your parents shared. Thank-you for this post.

  8. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for great points to ponder! I like your distinction between true ignorance and other sorts – perhaps even willful ignorance. As a plain old revenge seeking human it is easier to forgive true ignorance, but I don’t know what to do with willful ignorance: I’m inclined to strike out, but my experience of striking out is that I “strike out” (to switch to a baseball metaphor!). Sometimes it seems that I can’t forgive, but I know that revenge fails: I can only turn to a higher power at this point. Of course, all of this presupposes that justice by proper channels is good, right, and perhaps even salutary!

  9. bunnypudding says:

    Maybe I studied too much nemesis in classics but I never usually feel the need to have “revenge”as I believe the best revenge is to live well..nothing will annoying anyone who have wronged you with cruel intent than seeing you happy and not that bothered, that said I was recently attacked on social media publicly and this person did not allow me to defend myself and this caused this strange righteous anger in me…I am absolutely fine with someone telling me something negative to my face but to to attack me then scuttle off like a coward, like I don’t deserve a change to defend my self well, that literally made me a woman on a mission. At the end of the day I never did get to say what I thought of that person and I don’t think grief propelled me to want a form of revenge, I guess my need to want to confront this person was a desire to point out their hypocrisy and show them I was the better human being by not being so….alas I now know that I have wasted my efforts and really I could have been annoying them a lot by living well and forgetting about it…as I presume that is the reason they felt the need to attack me in the first place…

  10. agjorgenson says:

    Thanks for commenting. I like the idea of a life well lived as the best “revenge.” A year or so ago I heard a philosopher give a lecture in which he refused to admit the possibility of forgiving someone who refuses to repent or provide recompense in some fashion. He said we are obligated to withhold forgiveness. While I understood his argument, I didn’t buy it. Sometimes others are only interested in hurting us, and we need to do whatever we can to be safe, to be at peace, and to move forward. For some of us, forgiving even our enemies is that pathway.

  11. This blog was… how do I say it? Relevant!!

    Finally I have found something which helped me. Appreciate it!

  12. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about
    this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog.
    A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

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