What to Do When You Want to Seek Revenge

Ryan Holland

Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 23, 2024
What to Do When You Want to Seek Revenge

Choosing self-control over revenge does not mean we have let someone get away with something. Rather, it shows our strength to trust in God to fight our battles.

There are those who daydream of ponies and picnics, and then there is me… dreaming of the ways I can take revenge on my enemies. 

When we hear ‘revenge,’ we often think of slashing tires and egging houses, or worse. But revenge can be much simpler. Sometimes our success is ‘revenge.’ We dream of the day our enemy scrolls through social media to see our radical weight loss transformation or our beautiful European vacation. We can even “spiritualize” our revenge. We pick “good” goals in our lives to shame our enemies. But this revenge is just as sinister. And just as tempting. There is something about revenge… 

What Does the Bible Say About Revenge?

Every time I feel bent on revenge, I read Romans 12. Romans 12 is very anti-revenge, as you can imagine. Although there are plenty of Bible verses condemning our fantasies of revenge, Romans 12 lays it all out for us. Starting in verse 14 it reads, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” In verse 17, it continues, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.” 

I could not have said it better myself, “Do not take revenge.” No arguing with that. Short and simple, straight to the point. But did you notice that the Scripture calls us “my dear friends”? In our dark moments when revenge feels so tempting, our pain is recognized in that sentiment. Often, those seeking revenge are seeking retribution for some kind of hurt or injustice. Although we are asked not to take revenge, we are simultaneously seen in our suffering. Do not see God’s command as a dismissal of whatever you may have gone through or experienced. God sees you and cares. In fact, He cares far too much to allow you to take revenge. He would rather handle that part for you. 

Will They Just ‘Get Away with It’?

It is difficult to let go of the idea of revenge because it can feel as though we let our enemy off the hook. But right after we are asked not to take revenge, we are reminded to “leave room for God’s wrath” (v 19). 

Do not forget that we serve a God who cares about justice. He cares about our tears, our suffering, and our wounds. He will not stand idle. When we choose to take revenge into our own hands, we are actually taking from God. God is our avenger; leave space for His working hand. 

Choosing self-control over revenge does not mean we have let someone get away with something. Rather, it shows our strength to trust in God to fight our battles. The rest of verse 19 says, “’It is mine to avenge; I will repay’, says the Lord.” Leave justice to God. 

When God asks us to refrain from revenge, He is not excusing bad behavior on behalf of the other party. He is not minimizing your pain or the issue at hand. He is simply saying to leave room for Him. He will handle it, my dear friend. 

What Do I Do Instead?

Romans 12 continues to describe the anti-revenge plan to us in verse 20. It reads, “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” 

Romans gives us God’s alternative to revenge: kindness. Do not mistake kindness for weakness. Our deepest strength is displayed when we turn an evil situation into something good. We stop the evil that has been perpetrated against us in its tracks. We do not allow ourselves to be overcome by that evil. As Proverbs 25:20 says, when we choose kindness and generosity towards our enemies over revenge, God will reward us. 

What Will God Do When I Choose Kindness Over Revenge?

When we choose kindness over revenge, we acknowledge God as our protector. God cares about whatever you are going through, and He wants to defend and protect you. When you feel tempted to take matters into your own hands, remember these Scriptures that describe God as our ultimate shield and protector: 

“Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” Psalm 33:20

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me…” Psalm 28:7

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—from violent people you save me.” 2 Samuel 22:3

“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2

“As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.” Psalm 18:30

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3

“But You, O LORD, are a shield about me. My glory, and the One who lifts my head.” Psalm 3:3

I love the imagery of God as my shield. He is there to take the arrows for me. He goes before me. He will sacrifice Himself for my protection. He is my Protector. When I desire revenge, I envision God as my shield, and I feel the space to be vulnerable and trust that He will keep me safe. 

What’s in It for Me?

Often, the sweet victory we imagine does not quite come. Revenge in our imagination can feel intoxicating. In practice, however, it can feel anticlimactic. Typically, revenge does not feel as good as we think it will feel. In fact, revenge only offers temporary relief at best. At worst, it makes us feel worse. 

When reading Romans 12, we see that the best ‘revenge’ is kindness. Kindness from someone you have wounded can sting. But this is the type of sting that is transformative. Revenge multiplies wounds. Kindness opens opportunities. When we choose the road of kindness, we free ourselves from the spell of bitterness and we give our enemies the chance at redemption and reconciliation. We open the doors for mutual healing. And ultimately, we glorify God. 

I believe God asks us to leave Him the role of avenger partly to protect us. He knows that vengeance delays healing. He is a much better dealer of justice than we are, anyway. When we choose God’s way, we no longer are shackled to the injustices committed against us. We get to display great strength of character. We get to see our enemies humbled by our kindness. And we get to build a deeper relationship with God. The deepening of this relationship will demonstrate God’s care for us in ways we have never seen before. 

Next time you desire to take revenge, remember who is fighting for you. God wants to fight this battle for you. He wants to protect you. He wants to transform you in the process. Do not take away what is rightfully God’s, as He says, “It is mine to avenge, I will repay.” Revenge does not belong to us. God will watch over you. 

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/SIphotography

Ryan Holland is a seminary student at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Program Manager of LendHOPE worldwide, a micro-funding and entrepreneurial training program for business owners living in material poverty.