This is the story of one of my friends. Due to the sensitive nature of this story, I am publishing it anonymously for her. The experience of sexual abuse and the church’s failure to protect is sickeningly common. What are we doing to bring about redemptive change? While working for that change, are we motivated by justice or by revenge?
I was angry. The rage that filled me blinded me to reason or logic as I picked up eggs and slung them at the darkened house. Around me were four or five other teenagers, both boys and girls who also picked up eggs and threw them. We repeated the words that had made us so angry, “We’re just practicing!”
More eggs flew and from inside, we saw curtains move. A friend and I hung one last ornament– loaded with accusation– on the doorknob to make sure there was no question as to why we were there, then turned to leave.
We got back into the car, and dirt, grass, and stones flew as I tore up the yard. We “turned kitties” through the driveway and across the front yard, and then we left.
I was fifteen and I didn’t have my license yet. I also didn’t own a car, but my little sister and I had sneaked off in our parents’ station wagon in the middle of the night to meet the rest of the group that joined us on our mission. The focus of my anger was a seventeen-year-old boy who lived in that house. We had been told that his parents were gone for the weekend, so we wanted to give him a message that he would understand.
My 15th year of life was my angriest year of life. It was the year I realized that life is not fair and painful things have the power tear your world apart and nothing you could do would make any difference.
My little sister got raped that year. She was barely thirteen.
My parents started the process that would put this 29-year-old man in prison. There was a rape kit, an interview on video, and suddenly everything stopped. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember being told that some in our church were discouraging them from pressing charges because we were nonresistant people.
We now knew better than to ever babysit at those people’s house again.
I learned two things from that. The first was that bad things happen that you can do nothing about. The second was that adults could not always stand up for you to protect you or to bring justice when those things happened.
Somehow the kids at our Beachy Christian school found out what had happened to my sister. Our friends asked us about it and we both attempted to shrug it off. We had enough other problems in our life to want to focus on that. My dad was in the process of leaving my mom and our world was falling apart.
But my little sister told me the boys at the Beachy school treated her differently after that. This angered me almost more than the rape did. This was our day to day world—the people we were with every day. One night after a Tuesday night ballgame at school, a much older, high school boy that my little sister had a crush on offered to give her a ride home.
I didn’t realize that she had left until I went to leave with my brother. Her room was dark when I got home, and I didn’t talk to her until much later. That week, a friend told me that he heard “locker room talk.” That seventeen-year-old was bragging to the boys that he pulled over and “had sex” with my sister. He never said a word to her, just pulled over and raped her.
But even worse, he boasted that he had a girlfriend and that he had only wanted to “practice” on someone.
I can’t even begin to describe the rage that filled my mind. I wanted to hurt him in the worst way. I wanted to get him in trouble. I wanted him to feel pain. I wanted him to know how angry I was. How was it possible for someone to use a broken little girl so callously with no thought of her suffering?
But there is no justice–not when you are a Beachy girl who has been taught that you must always forgive. Not when you are part of that troubled family with so many problems and carry your own secret shame–no one hears or cares. Or so I thought.
We took matters into our own hands and showed our anger in our own rather immature, adolescent manner. But the church noticed then.
Within a week, I, and a couple of the kids that had joined me in my egg throwing escapade had to meet with the church ministry team. It turned out that our information had been incorrect; his parents had been home after all that weekend. They had recognized at least a few of the kids involved and had contacted the church.
We sat there in shame as the preachers questioned us sternly. “Are these accusations true? Why would you do such a thing? Why did you hang a condom on the doorknob? Why were you shouting?”
And we hung our heads and shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just a prank.”
Why bother explaining? How could three young teenage girls explain to an entire ministry team of men the shame and vengeful anger we felt? They wouldn’t understand. What good would it do but drag my sister’s name through the mud again?
Later that week, we went with our mothers to apologize to his parents for what we had done. I mumbled my apologies with hatred and anger still festering in my heart.
That was more than twenty-five years ago. The anger and hatred have been eradicated long ago, but I still cried as I typed out this story.
Justice. Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Sorrow.
Through the years, these are all words that I have become well acquainted with. I learned the meaning of them in a deeper way than just knowing the definition. Some things you don’t really learn until you live them.
I’ve learned that just because you sorrow doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven. I’ve learned that just because you have forgiven doesn’t mean that God won’t extend justice.
I’ve learned that mercy is not forgiveness. I’ve also learned that grace is greater than justice or mercy.
More and more I realize that I care a lot about justice. I can overlook wrongs done to me, but when I see innocence stolen, or people taken advantage of or wronged, something inside wants to stand in front of the one being wronged and fight to defend them. Something in me wants to fight against injustice where ever I see it.
I’ve learned that God is a God of justice and the desire for justice is not wrong. It is God-instilled. I have also learned though, that His sense of justice is much more perfect than mine. There is a fine line between justice and revenge. I can bring injustices to Him and ask Him to fight for those who are wronged when there is nothing I can do. I have seen His hand bringing justice when it seemed impossible.
When I allow my anger at injustice to overtake me and I strike out in hate or anger at the offender, it is only revenge and will accomplish nothing. I am incapable of balancing the scales of justice perfectly. Justice, on the other hand, is not wrong to seek—especially when someone is being wronged and has no one to stand up for them.
Isaiah 1:17 “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
Psalms 82:3 “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.”
Psalms 106:3 “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!”
Deuteronomy 27:19 “Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
Proverbs 21:3 “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Jeremiah 22:3 “Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed.”
Justice seeks to stay within the confines of the law and the moral nature of God. Revenge seeks to satisfy its anger and hatred by inflicting pain or shame upon the offender.
There are a lot of ways that I could have sought justice rather than revenge in the story I just wrote about. Justice could have been accomplished, but instead revenge did nothing and for years I carried anger. Anger that I didn’t even realize was there.
God has a way of bringing things to our awareness that need to be taken care of… One day I saw the man who hurt my sister in a restaurant as I walked up to the counter to order my food. My stomach turned, and I felt physically sick. I left without food. It was at that point that I realized I hadn’t ever forgiven him.
I asked God to eradicate that anger and hatred and to help me to see that young man as God sees him. I truly believe that if I were to see him today, my reaction would be different.
That was a long time ago. And still I am learning to differentiate between defending the downtrodden and afflicted; and taking revenge.
May I be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.
What thoughts and emotions stir in your heart and mind when you read this story? How can we develop justice and stand for our right to be protected without deteriorating to revenge?