Vengeance and vindication: what is the difference?

[June 27, 2022: There have been some changes made to this post. For more information, read the Editors’ notes at the bottom of the post. Editors.]

When my first marriage ended for the final time, I was heavily judged by people close to me who misread the situation and saw me as the one at fault. After I emerged from the crisis-management stage, I had a sense that there was a deep, gut-wrenching cry in my belly. That cry sat in my belly for years. Sure I wept, but not the gut-wrenching cry, only lesser ones. I felt so angry and slighted by the secondary abuse from bystanders, that I couldn’t process the deep wound properly. It was like a log jam.

I don’t know how it happened, but this sense of a deep belly cry eventually disappeared. I think most of it dissipated when I had an insight into this passage in the Old Testament.

(Deuteronomy 17:2-7  ESV)  “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant….and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones.

On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.  [Emphasis added.]

God’s Law said that when a capital crime was committed, and the report had been heard and assessed by the judges, and the criminal sentenced for execution by community stoning, the persons who reported the crime were to be the ones who cast the first stone. Somehow, lying in my bed one night, I had a revelation about this passage. I felt it was saying:

God understands your anger, your need for justice, your need for vindication. And vindication is not the same as vengeance. Vengeance is when you personally get back at your abuser. Vindication is when the community says to you, “Yes, this was a crime; you were horribly mistreated; we as a community agree that the offender must be punished.” God tells the community to let the victims cast the first stone (thereby validating the victims’ need to ventilate their anger). Then, everyone else picks up and throw stones to finish off the execution, thus confirming their vindication of the victims.

Now please don’t sidetrack this into a discussion of whether or not capital punishment should apply today; I don’t want to discuss the rights and wrongs of current statutes. But I am saying that I found it comforting that God understands the angry feelings of victims, and calls for justice to be delivered to perpetrators in such a way that the victims are fully vindicated.

Somehow, this insight decompressed and dissolved that unventilated cry in my belly.

P.S. I was inspired to write this post after reading a wonderful post by Lundy Bancroft about the healing power of crying, called A Powerful Key To Healing From Trauma. I highly recommend it.

[June 27, 2022: Editors’ notes:

—For some comments made prior to June 27, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be an exact match.
—For some comments made prior to June 27, 2022 that quoted from the post, the text in the comment that was quoted from the post might no longer be found in the post.
If you would like to compare the text in the comments made prior to June 27, 2022 that quoted from the post to the post as it is now (June 27, 2022), click here [Internet Archive link] for the most recent Internet Archive copy of the post.]


Further reading

Three kinds of forgiveness

What about forgiveness?

Anger, hatred, vengeance: — am I feeling them? are my feelings wrong?

Psalm 94 — O God of vengeance, shine forth!

IMPORTANT NOTE: While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the ‘healing retreats’ Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his ‘Peak Living Network.’ See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

12 thoughts on “Vengeance and vindication: what is the difference?”

  1. Barbara, this is a wonderful piece. I sure could identify with your description of a ‘log jam’ having grown up on the west coast of Canada, and can remember seeing the chaos that is caused when the logs jam up the rivers or entrances to the seaway. What a mess can follow!

    Thank you for giving victims permission to be angry. I believe that it is righteous anger, the kind Jesus demonstrated when He entered the Temple and saw the violation that had been done to His Father’s house. In order to forgive, we need to process our anger and let it go eventually, but if we hold onto our anger and want vengeance, it will eventually steal our soul.

  2. I remember once being publicly rebuked by a fellow Christian for defending the right of victims to express anger. She said that we are not to do that as Christians and that we are to leave that at the Cross. Well, all she did was add to my outrage as I began to see how the responses of the churched community added to the abuse. People are uncomfortable with anger so they try to tell victims to stuff their anger. I’m sure glad the psalmist expressed God’s anger very clearly in the Psalms and didn’t listen to those who would try to deal with the discomfort by pretending that anger is always a sign of revenge or bitterness.

    Vindication is certainly a part of justice. Even vengeance in itself can’t be a bad thing because it says —

    ….”Vengeance is mine, says the LORD….” [Romans 12:19 NCB – New Catholic Bible.]

    —why would God have it if it was evil? Sure, vengeance in our hands can turn into an ugly thing. But you have shown that the Scriptures clearly support the notion that Godly justice must include vindication of victims.

    Oh, and yes, I agree that Lundy Bancroft’s post touched on something hardly ever acknowledged: that victims have a deep belly cry to release and that releasing it is a key to healing.

  3. Christians, according to the Lord Jesus’ own definition, are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Therefore, the Christian will, more than other people, crave that justice be done — because justice is right. Righteous anger naturally accompanies this thirst. It isn’t a “blood-thirst” for personal vengeance, but it is a thirst that God’s vengeance be effected upon the wicked. I just can’t picture someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness doing so in some way that lacks passion and, yes, anger. Of course at the same time we thirst for righteousness, we can also tell even our enemy that there is a blood-thirst that will wash him whiter than snow if he will repent and believe in it.

  4. I opted for vengeance over vindication when my community refused to hear my cries, when I spoke of abuse and was asked what I did to provoke it, when I was free and 1000 miles away and finally, finally, had the opportunity to tell him he was the worthless one. I only suffered five years. I was only physically abused once a year. I didn’t report the attacks. I perpetrated the perpetrator and lost custody of my children. Vindication vs. vengeance: A tough lesson.

    1. Oh wow. Thank you for sharing this, Tending Weeds. Your transparency and self-admission in telling the story of this tragedy will help others, I’m sure.

      You said:

      I was only physically abused once a year.

      In my first marriage the physical abuse occurred only a few times a year (as far as I can remember — I dealt with most assaults by going numb, shutting down, and partial or full amnesia was often the result). But I have heard Lundy Bancroft (somewhere in his writings) say that the ‘typical’ abuser, the most common of all, is where the abuser uses physical violence only occasionally, maybe a few times a year. So you and I are in the ranks of ‘typical victims’, in that respect.

      I am so sorry you lost custody of your kids. If you have any words to share that might help others in this dilemma, do offer them. Thanks for coming to our blog.

    2. Another post on this blog relates to vengeance as well. It’s called Abuse Victims Must Take Care Lest They Become Abusive.

      On that post there’s a comment by one of our Anonymous readers that relates to what you’ve shared, Tending Weeds, so I’m reproducing it here:

      ….like a dog that is cornered and bites back, a victim often lashes out and it looks like abusive behaviour but in fact it is reaction from being abused. The trauma that is inflicted makes victims act in ways that are dysfunctional, but only for a time. Eventually, as they seek healing and recovery, most of them DO find much more balance in the way they react.

      1. Thank you, Ms. Roberts. I read the related post and the comments. I’ll be poking around and reading some more.

  5. Beautiful, thank you. I’ve had that belly cry too. Still waiting for my vindication. Please Lord Jesus answer my prayers quickly.

    1. I pray that you do receive your vindication swiftly, from the Lord.
      Vindication is SO crucial for victims and their healing.
      I myself look forward to my own vindication of an unspeakably heinous church abuse situation (actually involving criminal actions).
      My vindication from ALMIGHTY GOD, that is.

  6. This was good to read. I have such upset in me, so much pain, anguish, and despite that I fear allowing myself to be angry. It is said that depression is anger turned inwards. Don’t know how true that is. But reading that a real need and passion for justice and righteousness is a good thing is helpful too because there are so many who have harped on me for not being more tolerant or getting with the program, growing up, and stop being upset by unfairness, injustice, abuse, victimization, etc.

    1. Me too, Anonymous. I’ve been told all of the same things. I read the book “How To Win Over Depression” by Tim Lahaye right after my abusive relationship ended. It had an entire chapter on how anger is a sin. I was already wounded by my abuser and was rightfully mad at the injustice. Then was told it was wrong to be angry. I tried to suppress my cry for justice. I couldn’t stop praying for God’s help and vindication. The book is no longer in print. Also was told by other church goers it was wrong to pray the psalms against evildoers. I knew it wasn’t wrong but I had no teaching to support me. Thank God for this blog. It has helped me so much.

  7. From Barb in the original post:

    But I am saying that I found it comforting that God understands the angry feelings of victims, and calls for justice to be delivered to perpetrators in such a way that the victims are fully vindicated.

    (Emphasis original.)

    What finally helped me was knowing God could exact a far more appropriate justice than I could ever imagine. He (God) has an intimate heart-knowledge of the perpetrator(s), a depth I cannot attain. I have a feeling anything I tried would boomerang….and Tending Weeds comment seems to bear out the idea.

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