The year is 2001. The month is March, maybe. It is another day in the life of a 14 year old in the first term of the first year of high school in a boarding school where survival is the name of the game. A little bit about my school: Chewoyet High School is located in West Pokot County, a few kilometres from Kapenguria town. The school sits on approximately 300 acres of land and boasts of a rich history and many achievements over the years. Among a long list of its alumni is a former vice president of Kenya and currently a cabinet secretary and a principal secretary in the Kenyan cabinet.
If you are Kenyan, then you probably know about the Kapenguria six. They were held at Kapenguria prison and my class in Form One served as the court where our first president Kenyatta and the other five were tried. There is a famous picture of the Kapenguria six taken in 1952 just outside our class. Maybe good history repeats itself but on that cool Saturday afternoon in 2001 my class served as a venue of another injustice, at least in the eyes of an unaware and ‘undeserving’ 14 year old.
On that Saturday afternoon we had come to class for the afternoon reading time between 2pm and 4pm. We were making noise in class which was not allowed. The staff room was next to our class and the teacher who was there came once or twice asking us to be quiet. We would be quiet for a while but then escalate the voices with time. The teacher came back very angry and asked the prefect who the noisemakers were. The prefect pointed at me. Yes, just me, as if it is possible to talk to yourself. The teacher went to the staff room and came back with a proper cane and I was asked to get up and prepare my behind.
He hit me one or two times and somehow he felt that I wasn’t feeling any pain, maybe because I was wearing a short inside. He asked me to take down my trousers and he went on to whip my behind so hard. Mind you I was just wearing a thin polyester sports short. Half the class made noise and am the only one who was punished!!!
I slowly pulled up my trousers when he was done and went to my desk, I had to sit down but my behind felt like meat on grill. I buried my head in my hands and soaked my sleeves and the desk with tears. Why me, I asked myself. I felt helpless, beaten down, hurt and embarrassed at the same time. I did not understand why I was sacrificed. Was it because I was the smallest guy in the class and so I was harmless?
I was dealt an injustice that would take years to heal. I developed a deep resentment for the prefect but I never showed it to him. We laughed and did all things classmates do but whenever I remembered the incident I wished something really bad happened to him, yeah, like being struck by lightning or something like that. Whether from me or not, I wanted justice, or so I thought I did.
First forward to about 2 years later, the guy became one of our leaders in the Christian union. Whenever I saw him preach or pray I would never feel a part of it, I never took his Christianity seriously. How could I receive from him? How could I respect him?
What do we seek?
I have been thinking about this revenge and justice thing on and off for about 2 years now and initially I did not think about this incident from 15 years ago. For a few months I have really thought and analysed what I went through and realized that I did not seek justice but revenge. Somehow along the way before I finished high school I managed to forgive him but I never mentioned it to him.
When I first thought of revenge and justice, it was related to the al-Shabaab terrorist attacks we have experienced in Kenya in the past few years. I remember the story of baby Osinya whose mother was killed by a bullet that got lodged in his brain. Thankfully after that famous operation in Kenyatta Hospital the bullet was removed and kid is doing well.
We live in bitter times, we see better times here and there but emotionally most of us are bitter. Bitter with the world, the politicians, the police, the students, the traffic, the racial conflicts and even bitter with ourselves because of goals we set that have now become our masters. You just need to check the comment sections in social media and you will ask no more.
Social media has certainly made things worse, now you can hurt others or be hurt from wherever you are, unlike in the past when you had to meet someone to hurt them. We are hurt on the go, which makes us more susceptible to injustices.
When injustices are meted out on us both individually and as a nation, retaliation is the first thing that comes to mind. Usually many of us don’t have the ability to act out our vengeance but we have those thoughts, like hoping those al-Shabaab terrorists would just be found and tortured in the most painful way possible. The problem is that we mistake that it would be justice if that happens. Maybe it would, but let’s try and define justice and revenge.
I found these definitions in Psychology Today. They say revenge is primarily emotional and justice primarily rational. Revenge is mostly about acting out (typically violently) with negative emotions. At its worst it expresses a hot desire for bloodshed. Revenge finds pleasure in causing others to suffer for the hurt they have caused to the avenger or victim.
Justice on the other hand is not about getting even or experiencing a spiteful joy in retaliation. Instead it is about righting a wrong that most members of society (as opposed to the alleged victim) would agree is morally culpable. The presumably unbiased and unemotional moral rightness of such justice is based on cultural or community standards of fairness and equity. Justice is grounded in assumptions, convictions and doctrines to do with honour, fairness and virtue.
The definitions are shortened for the sake of our discussion but we get the gist. Justice, as defined, is not what I sought when I thought of what my prefect did to me in form one, I craved vengeance and sadly that is where most of us are when dealing with pain, hurt and injustices. They are negative emotions through and through and even when we are able to ‘make them suffer’, we are still left with a deeper hole, sick with pain and regret and craving healing.
Is revenge ours?
There has to be a good reason why God asks us not to avenge but leave it to Him, since vengeance is His as it is written in Romans 12.19. I think it is because vengeance always leads to sin because to avenge you have to pass judgement. You have to convince yourself that the person is guilty to somehow ‘justify’ your actions. So by revenging, we judge which is also something we should not do. God has taken revenge from us because it will always lead us astray; and we would never develop virtues like forgiveness, turning the other cheek and loving our enemies. Maybe that is why Jesus rebuked his disciples when they wanted to call down fire on those who rejected Him as recorded in Like 9:51-55.
I have to mention here that identifying fault, mistakes or sin in people is not judgement. Judgement is passing a verdict based on those shortcomings; it is saying you deserve this or that punishment because you did this or that sin, it is condemnation. God may be having other ideas about that sinner you know, he may be offering them mercy and grace which reminds us again that his plans are not our plans.
There are times that we are able to get some sort of justice within the systems that we have built but it is rare and I understand that we live in a morally deficient society where justice has become a commodity with value in the market like sugar and tea. Criminals with money are running the economy while petty offenders and the poor suffer in jails. But most of the injustices we face are not even solvable within the system; there is no law against a verbally abusive parent, teacher, sibling, spouse or friend. No law that can bring back a father who left or the money lost in supporting a sibling who never changes. No law against rejection or being looked down upon.
In this and many cases where injustice is served to us hot and steamy, it is imperative that we ask ourselves what we really seek; retaliation or forgiveness, righting wrongs with wrongs or turning all this to the one who will ultimately serve justice.
The one thing we need to do is take care of our hearts; seek counselling and healing for our wounds and ask God for grace to forgive those who hurt us. We shall discuss more about the balances and struggles of finding justice, healing and forgiveness in part two next week and I will share a story that highlights that. Be on the lookout!