Friday, August 14, 2009


Am thinking of this story from the Bible. It's a story of Nemesis, the Roman goddess of vengeance. Her name comes from the same root word which means "to give what is due." As a lover of Greek tragedies, I loved the relentlessness of Nemesis. I suppose she's related spiritually to the idea of karma. Folks get what is due to them. The goddess seems to be more interesting when she gives bad folks what they're due -- the fruition of the evil seeds they've sown-- than when she gives good folks the stuff they're due. Perhaps in the grand scheme of things she never found that many good folks. Who knows? But in modern America the word has narrowed even more, Nemesis is now a human villain who challenges a bad person. "So and so is my nemesis," etc.

In the Bible story, Paul is saved from a shipwreck. This is miraculous enough. But then as he is building a fire a snake comes out and latches onto his hand. The chief immediately thinks that Nemesis is relentless. Sure, it looks as if the guy's gotten away from vengeance but although the stormy tempest didn't do the job Nemesis had intended, Nemesis gets the nearest weapon...a poisonous viper.. to finish the job the storm had hopelessly botched. The relentlessness of Nemesis is something those who truly believe in karmic justice believe in. You WILL get yours.

The weird thing is that the chief's insight is quite right. Paul IS a murderer who escaped the storm. Paul killed many believers. But grace triumphs over justice and with a tiny shake of the hand, Paul throws the relentless vengeance aside.

Can we who feel guilt ever really rest in the forgiveness -- yes, the grace!-- of God. This is not mere mercy. Paul is not merely not swollen, not mildly sick. Paul is utterly unscathed. And even more: Paul is given the gift of healing. Isn't the grace of our God wonderful? Now, can I write a story about a forgiveness so great? Am hoping Constant Tower turns out inspired and wonderful.

Acts 28

1And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.
2And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.
3And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand.
4And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.
5And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm.
6Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.

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