Charles Naylor, 1920
"I'll get even with that fellow if it takes ten years!" Thus declared a man about another who had wronged him, as his eyes flashed with anger and his teeth set firmly with resolve. In his heart he determined to do his enemy as great an injury as his enemy had done him. "Get even," I thought; "what does it mean to get even?" Then appeared before my mind's eye, a view of the various classes of humanity, each person in the scale of morality where his life had placed him. I saw the Christian on God's plane of holiness and truth. Far below him stood the moral though unchristian man. And down, down, step by step, my mental eye beheld man to the lowest depth of moral degradation.
Vile and wrong deeds always degrade man to a lower state. Every evil deed, word, or thought lowers us in moral being. If someone has done evil toward us, he has lowered himself by that act; and for us to decide to "get even" by a similar act toward him is for us to decide that we will lower ourselves to his level. To "get even" means to get on the same level. It means to abase and degrade ourselves. If we "get even," we are as bad as he, and worthy that others look upon us with the same feelings with which we regard him.
If you want to get even with anyone, do not choose someone below you — but someone above you in moral attainments, and labor to attain to his height, instead of the other's depths. This will ennoble you, make you better, and be worthy of a rational being.
The principle of revenge has no part in Christianity. God refuses to let us avenge ourselves, no matter what the provocation nor how good the opportunity for vengeance. He says, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 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 12:17-21). "Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else." (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
When one who is a Christian so far forgets what is right that he stoops to take vengeance — he is then upon the level of the sinner who did him evil, and is himself a sinner, and is fallen from his high position to the level of sin! God forbids us to threaten to "get even" with anyone. "Say not, I will do so to him as he has done to me — I will render to the man according to his work" (Proverbs 24:29).
The spirit of Christianity is to render good for evil, blessing for cursing, and love for hatred. The blood of Christ will wash away the "get even" disposition from us; and until we are thus cleansed, let us not presume to call ourselves by that holy name of Him who "did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly." Good is stronger than evil. Evil used against evil, only begets more evil; but we may "overcome evil with good."
I once asked a man why he did not become a Christian. He replied that there were so many in his business who were trying to get the financial advantage of him, that he could not do right — but must do the same with them or he could not "keep even."
But let us see what it really means to be "even." If a man lies about me, and to get even I lie about him — then we are even. He is a liar and I am a liar — both on the same plane. He is going to the judgment to give account for his lie, and so am I for mine — we are even again. If he does not repent — he will go to Hell for lying; and if I do not repent — I shall go, too. Yes, we may get even — but I would rather not be so.
If a man tricks me out of ten dollars, to get even I must watch my chance to do likewise to him. If I do not try to trick him to get even, he may have more money in his pocket than I; but if I turn the matter over for settlement to Him who said, "Vengeance is mine — I will repay," when the final account is rendered, I shall be ten dollars or more ahead.
Let us not endeavor to be "even" with our enemies by taking vengeance — but let us do right and win them to the gospel by overcoming evil with good.
Let us get even by raising others up — instead of lowering ourselves to their sinful level. Be a blessing to all. Set a right example.