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 
32:35).

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 
neck.

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 
happening.

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.