Enforcing Consequences Is Not Revenge



By Rev. Renee

            Once again, I am amazed at the creativity of abusers who are trying to weasel out of being accountable for their actions.  Here is another excellent question we received in a recent e-mail from a sister who is dealing with abusive parents, and the answer which clarifies this point:

            Question:   “Whenever I attempt to enforce consequences on my father for his abuse, he tells me that I am being spiteful and vengeful.  I have told him that I will not be around him when he is drinking because he is really mean and nasty, also crude and vulgar.  Then when he gets drunk and abusive and I start to leave, he tells me that I am acting out of revenge.  He says that God says that vengeance is the Lord’s and I am sinning by taking vengeance myself.  I end up confused and very frustrated and not knowing how to respond.  He does not respect my boundaries and I feel helpless to defend myself……Sister Vicky”

            Answer:    “God does indeed tell us that he reserves vengeance for himself and we are not to take revenge for a wrong.  But there is a big difference between taking revenge and taking a stand against wickedness or unacceptable behavior, which God does tell us to do.  There is also a difference between being vengeful and protecting ourselves or our loved ones from further harm, which we are also taught to do.

            Let me illustrate with an example.  Let’s say your brother stole money from you.  If you went to his house and threw a brick through his picture window, or set his car on fire, that would be taking revenge.  God does not want you to do that, and he promises that he will take care of avenging you in his own time.  God’s revenge is a perfect and terrible thing, and we can’t do better than that.

            However, if you called the police, brought charges against your brother, and had him arrested, that is NOT revenge.  That is a perfectly appropriate consequence. That is taking a stand against your brother’s evil behavior.  That is righting a wrong, seeking justice, and protecting society from a criminal.  Forcing your brother to live through the natural consequences of his own behavior is not taking revenge.  Going to jail is something HE BROUGHT ON HIMSELF.  You didn’t “do it to him”. 

            Furthermore, let’s say that now that you know your brother is a thief, you decide to avoid him, or even to end your relationship.  That is NOT revenge.  That is being prudent.  He can’t be trusted, you have to protect yourself- and you have every right to protect yourself.  It’s that simple.  God instructs us to take steps to protect ourselves from harmful people.  If your brother repents and makes restitution, you may feel that he has learned his lesson and continue to associate with him on a trial basis.  This will give him a chance to prove himself.  The key is to do this over time, and not to give him access to your money or possessions again until he has built back your trust.

            In your case, you have rebuked your father and informed him of your conditions for being in his presence. Your conditions are reasonable, appropriate, and absolutely necessary.  He chooses to disrespect your limits and continue to abuse you.  In the Bible, when someone refuses to listen to our rebuke and change his ways, we are told to have nothing further to do with him (Titus 3:10, Matthew 10:14, Matthew 18:15- 17,etc.)  So your father should be grateful that you keep giving him another chance instead of avoiding him permanently, because you are cutting him far more slack than you are required to.

            Now let’s take this one step further.  Let’s say you know your father has a habit of driving drunk.  Would it be “revenge” to call the police and ask them to keep an eye on him and arrest him if they catch him driving while impaired?  Again, NO, although your father will surely disagree (but then his judgment is impaired by alcohol, anyway). 

            If your father’s behavior and choices present a danger to innocent people, then you have a responsibility to do what you can to stop him.  You can’t control his decisions, as you already see, but you can help him learn from the consequences of his behavior, and in the process, protect yourself and others from him.  That is not taking revenge on your father.  That is doing whatever is necessary to keep him from harming, or killing, someone else.  If you have already rebuked him about his behavior and he refuses to listen, you are free to avoid him.  But if he presents a danger to others, you do have some moral responsibility to take whatever steps you can to keep innocent people and their families safe.

            When rebuking an ungodly person, trying to teach him how his behavior not only affects others, but separates him from God, will have no effect.  If someone does not have a relationship with the Lord, then the threat of damaging that relationship will have no meaning for them.  The Lord uses us to rebuke each other.  Fellow believers who care about their relationship with the Lord will learn from your rebuke, but the unrighteous will not.

            That is a big part of the reason that the Lord tells us to shun, avoid, and have nothing further to do with those who are unrepentant and will not listen to rebuke.  For such people, social censure and the open disapproval of others is the only thing that might have an effect.  Unfortunately, there are others (see our articles on Reprobates ) for whom even this will not work.  Then there are folks who don’t really care about how the damage they inflict affects others, but when they see their behavior is going to impact THEM and have social or relational consequences for THEM, will make an effort.  Even a grudging change is better than no change at all.

            After we have rebuked and walked away, we are leaving these people in the Lord’s hands.  Only he can work a change in their hearts, if they choose to listen to him.  If they choose to listen to the devil, then God will also walk away from them.  He will turn them over to suffer the consequences of their reprobate minds.  (Romans 1: 28-32)

            Sometimes doing the right thing may seem like revenge to the unrighteous.  But it is still the right thing to do.  Since they are unGodly, we can’t expect them to understand this.  Hopefully enforcing consequences will motivate a change in heart.  If not, we can at least influence and  limit the damage a harmful person can do to ourselves or others.  Consequences are a teaching tool to help offenders learn appropriate boundaries. 

            You presented your father with a CHOICE.  You gave him fair warning of your boundaries and what the consequences would be for disrespecting them.  Now you need to stand firm and back up your words with action.  If being in your presence really matters so much to him, then he can CHOOSE NOT TO DRINK around you.  It’s that simple.  He doesn’t have to like it, but that’s the way it is.  Refusing to tolerate bad behavior or to stick around and be abused is not revenge, so don’t let him lay a guilt-trip on you.  If he accuses you of being vengeful, don’t allow him to drag you into an argument- because then you’ll wind up staying longer and he wins!  Just say, “I’m sorry you see it that way, but I’m still leaving” as you walk out the door!


***Click here for a related article, ‘Should I Let My Estranged Relatives Have Contact With My Children?’

***Click here to learn how to set limits.

***Click here to learn how to say no.

***Click here to handle a critical relative.

***Click here for handling a relative who orders you around.