How do Christians really take revenge


At first glance, it does not seem that Christians can take revenge… And yet! The law of Christ is that of forgiveness. Like all the commandments of Jesus, it was proclaimed on one mountain – the Beatitudes – and fulfilled on another, Mount Golgotha… Among the Apostles, Peter was one of the most ebullient, closely following the indomitable “sons of thunder”, James and John. However, he does not ask the Messiah if he can, on occasion, take revenge. He understood too well that Christ wants us to live in the mercy of God, received and offered. He asks: “How often should I forgive my brother’s trespasses against me? Up to seven times?” We know Jesus’ response well:

This answer is partly enigmatic. We hardly know of any other passages in the Gospel where the Lord responds with a somewhat complex multiplication. Of course, the numbers are symbolic, the number seven is biblical and designates a totality, a completion like that of the seven days of the Creation of the world. He therefore suggests that forgiveness is a creative act. But we must go further, and look in the Old Testament to see if any precedents could shed light on this answer. There are two passages where this multiplication comes to the surface.

The first is that of the capture of Jericho by the armies of Israel, barely crossing the Jordan, during their conquest of the promised land. Joshua and his “fighters, valiant warriors” are at the foot of the wall in front of a city that seems impregnable by armies without training. God then gives them an unexpected recipe to ensure victory: seven priests carrying seven trumpets in front of the Ark will tour the city for six days. And on the seventh day, they will go around it seven times, blowing their trumpets (Jo 3-5). Then the walls collapse and the army rushes towards the city to conquer it. The conquest therefore did not resort to the force of the sword but to the sound of trumpets. 

Our words of forgiveness resound with the same sound, which breaks the walls. It is therefore probable that the Lord, by his arithmetic response, first alludes to this conquest. Forgiveness is not the resignation of cowards who do not know how to fight. In light of this passage from the Old Testament, we understand that forgiveness is a true conquest, a powerful way of breaking down the most insurmountable walls. The Christian breaks down the ramparts of his resentment, but also the walls which enclose the heart of the one who offended him. Through forgiveness, walls come down and hearts can be won, that of the offended as well as that of the offender. “The Lord gives you the scepter of his strength: rule even in the heart of the enemy,” says elsewhere in the Psalm ( Ps 109:2 ).

The measure of mercy

The other passage of Scripture, undoubtedly less known, where it is even more precisely a question of seven times and seventy times, is the story of Lamech, the descendant of Cain. To protect Cain from vengeance after the murder of Abel, God had prescribed that whoever killed Cain would be avenged seven times over. It was not obviously to promote revenge, but to show mercy to the murderer, who feared that his crime would come back to him like a boomerang… And his descendant Lamek, this son of violence, diverts this divine law which only aimed to protect Cain from all vengeance. He declares: “Cain is avenged seven times, but Lamech seventy-seven times!” ( Gen 4:23-24 ).

It is quite remarkable: Jesus invokes a law of vengeance, a deadly law where violence is added to violence and constantly multiplies it, to make it the measure of mercy. These passages therefore tell us the great novelty of the law of Christ: for the law of exponential growth of violence where each offense calls for a more acute revenge, he substitutes that of forgiveness where failed love is avenged by a victorious love. Forgiveness cuts through the offense to restore the order destroyed by sin. 

Forgiveness acts as revenge

It is also possible to think that the Lord is suggesting to his disciples that forgiveness will serve as their revenge. Through forgiveness, granted seventy-seven times, the Christian obtains a more powerful response than vengeance offered. Rather than repeating the evil suffered, he will conquer it even in the heart of his enemy, to make true right triumph, that of God, restoring the order of lost justice and love.

When the offense is too great and the forgiveness too difficult to grant, when despite ourselves, we ruminate on the little sentence that kills, the offense that we could commit to retaliate for the one we suffered, I am not sure that we should forgive all of a sudden, before having understood the extent of the battle to be fought. The Christian can very well then, in these painful cases, foment his revenge. Let him then let his response plans rise within him, let him allow himself to develop his little strategies. Let him see how he could go about it, to succeed, to inflict on the other as much or more than he suffered. Only then, with his vengeance firmly in hand, will he be able to lay it down, renounce it, and ensure that his forgiveness is a positive act, an act of combat. Because forgiveness must never be the cowardice of someone who has nothing to take revenge on. It must be the revenge available but which we renounce to strike our blow better. To enter into mercy is not to shy away, but to decide to use a more powerful weapon to overcome hatred in oneself and even in the hearts of others.

The weapons of love

Called to forgive seventy times, the Christian is not reduced to the status of passive victim, of sheep shorn at leisure: he is equipped with a more powerful weapon to take better revenge, to avenge God’s right. on oneself and the hearts of others. Mercy restores justice through the weapons of love.


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