Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: On Getting Even

A lady went to a local studio to have her portrait painted. She told the artist that she wanted it to be very realistic, but with a few special additions. She said: "I want you to add a very large diamond necklace, a big diamond brooch, diamond earrings, two beautiful and expensive-looking rings, and diamond-studded bracelet." He said, "I can do that, but would you mind telling me why you want that done?" She replied: "Well, I have a terminal illness and I do not have long to live. My husband is having an affair with a younger woman, and I know that as soon as I die he is going to marry her. I want him to have this portrait, and I want her to go crazy looking for this jewelry."

There are few things more satisfying than the warm feeling of getting even, even when you know you are not going to be there when it happens. The satisfaction is in the anticipation. How much time have you spent day- dreaming about possible schemes of getting even with people who are on your enemy list? And don't tell me "none." I know better, and so do you.

I dare say everybody has an enemy list. It may contain the names of specific people, or organizations such as the government, or vague entities that you cannot name. The list may be blank at the moment, but you anticipate some future time in which there will be names on the list.

A little girl listened with great concern as her pastor preached a passionate sermon on the importance of forgiving your enemies. She felt moved to do something about such an important matter. She wrote the following note to her pastor: "Dear Rev: I do not have any enemies. I am only six years old, but I hope to have some enemies when I am seven."

Our spiritual condition can, to some degree, be measured by our enemy list. Some people have a long list that is easy to get on to and from which no one is ever deleted. Such a list sends up spiritual red flags. However, if your enemy list is in a constant state of change, if it is hard to get on that list and easy to get off, and if the list is sometimes blank, you are growing in grace.

Sometimes you can be on someone's enemy list without being aware of it. Many years ago I was attending a "going-away" party at a church from which I was being transferred. I was basking in the kudos that are common at such an event until an elderly lady came down the line, and without shaking hands, she said to me: "I never have liked you since you gave someone else my Sunday on the Altar Flower Calendar. I hate you and I am glad you are leaving." This was one of the few times in my life that I have been completely speechless. This woman had been angry at me for more than five years without my ever knowing of her animosity. While I had nothing to do with the composition of the Altar Flower Calendar, I probably could have interceded on her behalf if I had been aware of her complaint. If you have a complaint against someone, tell them. They may be able to get themselves off your enemy list and thus lighten your load.

Be consciously aware of you enemy list and keep an eye on it. A long enemy list can become oppressively heavy. I know that it feels good to think about getting even with someone for some real or imagined offences, but there are some inherent problems with this "getting even" business. It is not intended for us to be in charge of vengeance. The Good Book cautions: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'". (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). And, there is something inherently deceptive about vengeance. It is the sweetest morsel to the tongue that ever came out of hell. But no matter how good it feels at the moment, it always leaves the taste of ashes in your mouth.

It is a good spiritual discipline to review your enemy list when you pray.