For a course of instruction that is all about observing how the world works and then turning that understanding to shaping that world, the book of Proverbs’ counsel to just let go delivers a jolt:
Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. (Proverbs 20:22 ESV)
In the face of the possibility of revenge, wisdom’s studied activism turns suddenly still. We are waved away even from imagining how good vengeance would feel. How righteous it would be. How justified my setting things back in balance by striking back at the one who has taken from me.
Revenge is particularly appetizing when we are helpless, when all can really do is set our mind to its sweetness. Indeed the Proverb does not mark off the doing of revenge but rather the imagining of it. The text’s ‘Do not say …’ is as much about contemplating revenge, turning it over in one’s mind, imagining its delirious texture, as it is about verbally declaring an intention.
This is personal, and likely private.
Yet the proverb’s counsel does not elevate passivity. In the face of evil, limp resignation is not wisdom’s counsel. Rather, deliverance—and the justice against the adversary that this often requires—rests best in the hands of a more perfect judge. Because his timing is not ours, we face the sinewy task of waiting for YHWH’s deliverance moment with no special knowledge of the calendar that calibrates its approach.
We do not know, when called upon to suffer innocently, whether vindication lies just around the corner or decades off.
Yet we must not, wisdom counsels, warp our own perception and our selves by seizing vengeance with our inexpert hands.
We would mess it up. We are clumsy practitioners of the phantom we call ‘righteous revenge’. We cannot get it right. It not only eludes our grasp, the pursuit of it—here, the imagining of it—turn us eventually into evil people, the very population that we flatter ourselves as eradicating.
Become wise and you can shape the future, wisdom tells us as it trains our affections, our feet, our hands. Then, when we begin to feel our strength, it speaks a different word: But not this. Not here.
You must not touch this lever. You must wait. He will deliver you.