Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them....Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14,17-21)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this passage recently. It’s instructions for what to do when someone has wronged you. It’s the path to great peace of mind and freedom, even if it is totally contrary to our natural instinct, which is to hate and seek revenge on a person who has hurt us.
The final sentence particularly has stuck in my mind. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
If we return evil for evil, if we respond to the wrong someone has done to us by hating them, seeking revenge, holding on to bitterness and anger, or speaking badly of them, evil multiplies and evil has triumphed. If we allow ourselves to respond in kind to someone who has harmed us, evil has won.
Where is the end? If we respond to hatred with hatred, harm with harm, evil with revenge, injustice with malicious gossip, where is the end and where is the hope? Evil multiplies and continues in its cycle, hurting us, the other person, and everyone in our path. It’s why wars explode, why family feuds cycle through generations, why hatred between different ethnic groups perpetuates, why people live out their lives crippled by bitterness. When evil responds to evil, evil has won and rages on unabated.
We can stop evil in its tracks, neutralize it, and overcome it, simply by refusing to respond with more evil. Even if it seems “just”. We can respond in kindness and love. We can do good to our enemies. We can pray for them. We can bless them instead of cursing them. We can turn from the evil and create peace. We can end the cycle.
We can do all this knowing that God will bring justice to our enemies and those who have harmed us.
I have personally found that a lot of this happens in my thought life. When angry, bitter, condemning, negative thoughts crop up about a person who has hurt me, I have found it very helpful to recognize those thoughts, stop in my tracks, and begin to bless that person and to pray for them instead. It helps. Immensely. It restores peace of mind and blessing and takes my mind out of its negative track.
Let’s not perpetuate evil but instead neutralize it in our lives by responding in love. Evil doesn’t have to win. It doesn’t have to have power over us.