March 15, 2004
Vengeance Belongs to God
"It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their
foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and
their doom rushes upon them" (Devarim / Deuteronomy
Ice hockey is Canada's most popular sport. Very many
Canadians have strong feelings about it. Last week saw
one of the most grievous incidents in hockey history,
where one player violently attacked another. Hockey is
a rough sport. Players on ice skates are moving at
very high speeds. Aggressive body contact is
permissible. Tensions tend to run high, and it is easy
for things to get out of control.
The incident of last week was in retaliation of an
earlier incident of a month ago, when a player from
one team injured a player from another. The team of
the injured player felt that the officials did not
properly deal with the situation. It wasn't until
these two teams played each other two more times that
there was retaliation.
On March 8, one of the teammates of the injured player
sought to start a fight with the player who caused the
injury, Since he didn't want to fight, he was
attacked. The player who wanted to pay him back for
the first incident, hit him on the side of the head,
knocking him to the ice. By the time the incident was
over, the result was two fractured vertebrae in his
All week long this was the top story in the nation.
People are in shock that hockey violence could go this
far. I am in shock that others are in shock.
A few weeks ago I got to go to a hockey game. As it
turned out the home team completely dominated the
game. With less than two minutes remaining, the score
was 2 – 1. People began to leave, confident that there
would be no change in the score. What ended up
happening was that one of the players on the home team
decided it was necessary to pay back another player
for something he had done that the officials had not
noticed. But this time the officials did notice. The
player was penalized, which set up the conditions that
led to two more goals and a loss for the team that
really should have won.
That they lost when they should have won was bad
enough, but what makes what happened terrible was that
many of the fans thought the player who retaliated did
the right thing. They felt that the need to teach the
first player that he won't get away with what he did
was more important than winning the game.
That is the same attitude that caused the broken neck.
Many assert that a broken neck was not intended, but
until we learn that it is our desire for vengeance
that leads to things like this, it will keep on
People were in shock at the degree of violence that
was demonstrated in the midst of our beloved game. Yet
we cannot see that what happened is the logical
outcome of the way we mishandle our problems. This is
not only a problem in hockey, but in our personal
lives as well. Also the way we take vengeance on one
another may not appear as violent as an attack on a
hockey rink. Vengeful words can destroy lives too.
There is a need for justice in sport, in society, and
in our relationships. Yet how justice is worked out is
as important as the justice itself. God has imposed
boundaries on our behavior to keep us from destroying
one another. Vengeance is his prerogative, not ours.