Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
If you're me, if you get got, you got to get them back. It's like the Madea movie where she's talking to Dr. Phil. And living by and eye for an eye is so much easier than being good to those that would be evil to us.
I read this verse, with the rest of the chapter, a few days ago. I've been studying James while reading Romans. This one got me. This verse stuck with me. For several reasons.
First, if you know me, you know I'm a stickler for words and semantics. I've read this verse many, many, MANY times, but this hit me weird this weekend for some reason. The first half of the verse is passive, while the part after the comma is active. God is very clear about actions, and he directs us to be active in many different ways. I've said before that the word "go" is used around 1,500 times. Go, do, and other active words. Here's another example. But it struck me that we can do nothing and be overcome by evil, or we can do good and overcome evil.
I also interpret this verse two ways: externally and internally. Externally, we can be overcome by evil from outside sources. The Word of God is very clear on how we treat those considered our "enemies." Bless them that persecute us. Love your enemies. In fact, in the verse before this one, Paul writes that we are to feed our enemies if they are hungry and give them drink if they are thirsty. Elsewhere Jesus says to turn the other cheek. If they want your tunic, give them your cloak. If they want you to go one mile with them, go two. Jesus is very clear about this in Matthew 5.
Why would you do this? Because most of all, Jesus also died for your enemies. "For God so loved the world," not just the people who are nice to you. If Jesus loved them, so should you. Also, what happens to you may be out of your control, but how you react is completely within yours. When I was a teacher, students would tell me all the time another student made them mad. I'd always tell them no, you got mad all on your own. I very clearly needed to follow my advice back then, but it was no less true.
Which leads to my next point: what about internally? So when you're overcome with loneliness, anger, sadness, or stress, what do you do? Those emotions, while valid, are not of God. So how do you overcome them? With good. Do something nice for someone. Something productive. Seek someone out. As my pastor says, that's "easy preaching, hard living." Very much hard living.
Things make me angry. Anger has been a feature of my family. But anger sucks. Anger keeps me separated from God. Jesus clearly said anger is like committing murder. Even the secular world knows it. Yoda says "fear leads to anger, anger to hate, and hate leads to suffering." And a popular response to "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," is "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." And it's true, if you get me and I get you back, is that the end? Not usually. It's usually a back and forth until someone decides they're done, but amends aren't usually made. It's more detente more than peace and reconciliation.
On the Vital Signs Podcast (philwade.net), I recently told a story about a customer at my job who was high on drugs and spit in my face. Right in the eyes, actually, missing my mask and the brim of my hat. If I'm honest with myself, I was definitely baffled, worried, and a little angry. And old me would have went to hit this person. It still took a while to process that day, and lots of prayer, but I remembered Jesus loves that woman. I could have picked apart that woman morally. What good would that do? I could have justified anger. I could have judged her accordingly. But I had to think, not too long ago I considered myself an abomination worthy of death. And it's true, as sinners we deserve death. But Jesus died and forgave us. If He forgave her and me alike, how could I not. So I prayed for her. I was honest with God, and I told him that I was mad and worried I caught something. But that's his to deal with. And not only did I find peace in that, I found peace in the fact that I didn't have to be angry. and I wasn't consumed with thinking about how I'd get revenge, have her arrested, or worse.
I'm not perfect, and I'm far from where I hope to be one day. But I'm glad I'm at least thinking before I react more. I'm praying that God keeps me accountable for that, and that He continues to work on that in me. Being angry or other things not of God is exhausting and I'm over it. I'd rather find the peace of my Lord. And forgive.