When is Revenge Okay?
Tonight I watched a documentary about what happened to ethnic Germans in Eastern Europe after the end of World War II in 1945. As an American, I’ve always viewed the end of the war as a time of great happiness, when we as a people could get back to simply living life. Of course there were scars--literal and figurative--but as a nation it was a time of relief and joy.
I knew things were different in Europe, especially in the East. The German occupiers were replaced by the Soviet occupiers. I have a unique perspective from many Americans, having lived in Ukraine for a while—I saw the residue of Communism. The decades following the war were a time of oppression, but at least there was peace, right?
I knew German prisoners of war from the Eastern front didn’t fare well, but I never thought about the civilians. According to the documentary, the end of the war ushered in an era of bitter reprisals against anyone who could be construed in any way as associated with Hitler’s Germany.
Survivors told story after story of brutal atrocities against people whose only crime was that they had something in common with the hated Nazis (in some cases just being able to speak German was enough to make them guilty). The world turned a blind eye as the victims of the Nazis became the oppressors.
Their logic was simple: Do to others what they (or at least people vaguely associated with them) did to us. In the name of justice, revenge--whatever—the liberated now turned the very tactics used on them against their formers tormentors. Never mind that these were predominantly women and children.
Those innocents who witness these reprisals—survivors and bystanders alike—watched in horror as they realized the “good guys” were no better than the Nazis.
This film was really upsetting for me. There’s a depth of spiritual darkness I encounter when confronted with these things that’s palpable. I always get a yucky feeling any time I study things relating to this subject, from visits to the concentration camps at Dachau and Auschwitz, to books, documentaries, etc.
I think it’s because this is what rejecting God looks like. I wrote a book a few years ago where a character made a statement along the lines of this: Taking God (as the source of absolute Truth) out of the equation is like trying to do math without the zero. It never has worked, and it never will.
The evidence of this was on full parade in Europe during the 20th century. After a bloody “world war” in 1914-1918, the response was to punish Germany for starting it. As Germans languished in economic hardships that made the Great Depression look like a cakewalk, much of their culture turned to gratification of the peoples’ base desires. In that climate of moral relativism, the message of National Socialism sounded just fine to a lot of people.
We all know what Hitler and his followers brought about over the next decade and a half, but it was the stories of those who helped defeat him that really has me shook up. They were our allies—and they really did suffer at the hands of the Nazis. But did that make it okay to do what they did once they were in power?
I couldn’t stop thinking about how different things would’ve looked had the Truth of the Gospel and God’s way of doing and being right (righteousness) prevailed among the people of Western Europe.
It’s true that by and large the Americans (and our British allies) treated the Germans much better than the Soviets did. But it’s not because we’re somehow inherently superior. The only difference is that the influence of Christianity has shaped this nation. I don’t care if you disagree—that’s the truth. Apart from the influence of Jesus, we’re all lost and prone to revenge and hate.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the character Tevye says if the policy of “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” is followed, the whole world would be blind and toothless. There’s a beautiful truth in Ephesians 4:32: when we are in Christ, God forgives us completely. But it doesn’t stop there. We’re told to do the same thing: forgive each other.
There are no exceptions, either. There isn’t a certain line of offense that’s just too much. God doesn’t limit His forgiveness for us, so we have no right to limit our forgiveness for each other.
Recently, I read about a murder trial close to my home. A woman was found guilty of taking part in a grisly murder. At her sentencing, the aunt of the victim spoke. She said she was a Christian, and because of that, she forgave the accused.
Not stopping there, the victim’s aunt went on to say that she will be communicating with the murderer. She stated that she spent time in prison and knows how lonely it is. I couldn’t help thinking that she’s probably going to save that woman’s life—both here and for eternity.
How different would this world look if each of us acted like her?
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