“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so you will heap coals of fire on his head’” (Romans 12:17-20 NKJV).
The van driver passed in the normal way (for Bangladesh). That is, he took advantage of a brief break in on-coming traffic to pass the first of two vehicles traveling close together, which happened to be a bus.
Since another vehicle was rapidly approaching, he pulled in between the bus and the car in front. Such is perfectly normal and usually taken for granted by drivers in this country.
Suddenly the van felt a blow in the rear and looked up to see the bus passing wildly, with a conductor holding a large stick glaring menacingly at the van driver. Establishing itself once again in front of the van the bus swung repeatedly from side to side, blocking any further effort to pass.
A little further on, the bus driver saw his opportunity, swerved so as to block the road and stopped, trapping the van and forcing a confrontation.
Within seconds several of the bus workers and others who supported them were surrounding the van, making loud accusations and threats.
Thankfully, calmer heads soon intervened and bystanders persuaded the angry bus crew to back off and calm down. The van was allowed to pull out and go on its way. But things looked close to violence for a few minutes.
Anger is a common emotion which many of us have trouble controlling. It is easy to react strongly to a real or imagined offense, and to seek retaliation by some direct violent response.
This may take the form of blows, shots or strong words, and much harm may result from any of these. Sadly such harm is usually unjustified and unnecessary.
Vengeance usually means, in our minds, doing some harm to one who has harmed us. We call it justice, believing we have the inherent right to such actions. But this kind of personal retaliation almost always worsens the situation and creates far more problems than it resolves.
Getting even simply means adding sin to sin, offense to offense, and turns us into the same kind of character as the one who so grievously harmed us. There is a much better way of handling these situations.
Paul describes this method in Romans 12. We should not repay evil for evil. Rather, we should always seek to do good to others, even (or especially) to those who have done wrong against us. He invites us to question our purpose.
Is it to feel justified and vindicated? Is it to enjoy the harm done to another? Or is it to improve our relationship with the offender and turn him into our friend or spiritual brother? It does not require great intellect to realize that it is this last alternative that should be our goal, especially if we seek to live a life pleasing to God.
The van driver and passengers in the story told above did not intend any harm or insult in the action which initiated the anger of the bus crew. Their desire to get even however could have easily led to a nasty fight, or a traffic accident, either of which could have resulted in serious injury or death to many people, most of whom were not involved in the original actions.
What is the value or justification for such retaliation? It is easy to see, there is none.
Far better for us to take the inspired advice of the apostle, “Do not avenge yourselves; but rather give place to wrath [i.e., bring it under control].”
In another place Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
Anger will come. But it does not have to control us or impel us into rash sinful actions. Let us learn to live peaceably with all men, at least so far as it is possible for us to do so.