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Pastor's column: Best not to dish out revenge at all

By Aaron Steffen, Hillcity Church

I've never understood the phrase "revenge is a dish best served cold." I mean I understand the logic behind the statement — that you want to be cold and mean to someone when you are enacting your revenge on them — but as far as the actual phrase is concerned I don't think it makes much sense.

A cold dish (in a bad sense) is usually one that has been left sitting untouched or unattended for sometime for one reason or another, and revenge is definitely not best when it comes from inattention or lack of thought. So instead it must be that the dish was intended to be served cold, making it necessary of special attention, or at least a cooler — and therefore I would be within my rights to label it (the dish or revenge) "high maintenance."

But in reality I think the part of the phrase that bothers me the most is the use of the word served. Again, I understand why it's there — it's just that I don't think it makes much sense.

Having grown up in church my whole life, I have long understood serving someone to be an act of humility and respect. When you serve someone else — you place them in a position above your own in some way, if only for a short time.

For anyone saying "Hey hold on a minute — don't go pushing your religious beliefs on me," I would argue that mainstream secular culture agrees with my understanding of service. The person designated to bring you your food at a restaurant? A server. When you get in trouble with the law and the make you do nice things for the community to repay your debt to society? Community service.

I think we can agree that in most cases service implies lowering oneself in for the betterment of another.

Revenge is in no way about serving or humbling/lowering yourself — in fact just the opposite. It's about raising yourself up because you were once placed in a position of lowliness unwillingly. The idea that we would "serve" someone revenge seems preposterous to me. But maybe it's not that far out there.

There's a verse in Romans I have often struggled with:

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

I think I struggle with the concept that the same God who sends his Son as a sacrifice for us, seems so willing to enact revenge on those who have wronged us. Initially it doesn't seem to fit his character. But think about revenge with me for a minute.

If you've ever "had your revenge," you know that it doesn't quite feel the as good as you thought it was going to, did it? Somehow, what you thought would be so fulfilling and rewarding, left you feeling empty and ashamed. It doesn't take you to a happy place — most times instead it brings you to regret.

I think God knows that — and that's why he takes on the responsibility of taking revenge. Because he is righteous, just, and loving, God must make sure that people get what they deserve in the end — but that doesn't mean he takes any pleasure in it.

In fact I think it breaks his heart to enact revenge just like it does ours, probably even more so. He knows there's no joy in it, He knows it's no fun, that in fact it is hurtful and painful — and so what at first seems like him taking away some of our fun, is instead a selfless act of loving service. Funny how that works isn't it? It's almost like he's smarter than us.

Many times in my life I have wished for the chance to get someone back for the hurt they have caused me. Sometimes it's even been people I care a great deal about. But when I take the time to really think about it, I'm glad I don't have to. It's a perpetual cycle of pain and negativity — and it's a lot of pressure.

So today I am thankful for God's service of revenge because it means I don't have to — hot or cold.