Vengeance in Romans & True Grit

Not only am I seeing resonances between U2 and Romans these days, but between Romans and “True Grit.”  The kids gifted me with this great work of theology for Fathers Day.

Paul says this in Romans 12:19: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for wrath, for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

According to Paul’s thought, taking revenge is not merely a demonstration of faithlessness in God’s coming judgment.  It is also a way of stirring up the dynamics of wrath so that one partakes of the destructive effects of vengeance.

The price of taking revenge is a major theme in “True Grit.”  Mattie Ross narrates her story as one of justice; she is out to avenge her father’s murder by Tom Chaney.  As she says in the beginning, “there’s nothing free in this world but the grace of God.”  She is, of course, not going to give Tom Chaney grace, but wants revenge.  And while Tom Chaney does indeed pay, she does also by losing her arm after being bitten by a snake.

Coen films fascinate me because they are so thoroughly wisdom-oriented.  They enjoy creating and exploring worlds in which dynamics are at work that are merciless to those who lack wisdom.  Characters who wrongly estimate their own capacities end up paying dearly for their folly.

This is certainly the case in “No Country For Old Men.”  Llewelyn Moss and his wife assume he can take care of himself well enough to escape the consequences of taking the money he finds.  But he is no match for Anton Chigurh and his relentless destruction.

The same happens to Mattie Ross in “True Grit.”  She refuses to listen to the voice of wisdom—Rooster Cogburn—and insists she knows what she’s doing and has the ability to meet the moment.

If we think with Paul about what is going on, Mattie Ross does not realize that taking revenge is stepping into a cosmic realm in which dynamics of destruction are at work to ensure that the avenger participates in the destruction.

That is why Paul says to “leave room for wrath.”  It’s not simply the right thing to do; it’s the path of wisdom.

6 thoughts on “Vengeance in Romans & True Grit

  1. athanasius96

    The word “revenge” often stirs up larger images of pain, but it is even true in simpler circumstances. A verse that comes to mind is “Do not answer a fool according to his folly.” It can be so hard to just walk away.

    1. timgombis

      That’s actually the context for most of our temptations to take revenge. To speak a word in anger to retaliate is to knit yourself to the realm of destruction and only guarantees that you’ll share in its dynamics. It looks like the way of hope, but is the way of death.

  2. Steve W

    Great thoughts! I have also wondered about the implicit statements made in Coen films about the amateur. I’m thinking here of Moss’s self-deception toward Chigurgh (a pro) and Mattie and (to some degree) LeBeouf’s self-confidence toward nailing Chaney. The pros often make impossible things look easy–suckering in fools who think they might “take a shot at the title.” But wisdom is spoken through cautionary words from Sheriff Bell in “No Country” and Rooster in “True Grit.”

  3. Craig Benno

    Your post has touched on an interesting question from a recent conversation, on the matter of not judging others. How does this equate in the social role of the court system.

  4. Pingback: Monday Morning Press 7.20 « living as dead

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