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Marriage is not ‘eye for an eye’ image

Marriage is not ‘eye for an eye’

Bringing peace to a broken relationship means giving up on retribution.

In the process of marriage counselling I have often come across marriages that have started well and yet degenerated badly over time. At the time of counselling, the partners felt a deep and abiding anger towards each other.

As I investigated the history of these relationships, I discovered that this type of marriage operated on the principle of exchange: an eye for an eye.

But Jesus had strong words to say to people who based their personal relationships on the principle of ‘eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’ (Matthew 5:38–42). 

Good for justice, not for relationships

Given as a regulation to judges to use in making judgements between plaintiffs (Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:19–20; Deuteronomy 19:21), this rule was intended to ensure justice.

As a principle it was never meant to set the standard for personal relationships; it was to ensure that retribution stipulated by the judge was just and not excessive. In the case of malicious witnesses recorded in Deuteronomy 19, the judges and the priests were to stick strictly to the principle and show no mercy, presumably because the malicious witness was trying to overthrow justice.

If you analyse this approach to relationships in terms of the heart, it is not difficult to see what attracts people to it. The mind accepts the principle because of the values embedded in it. The principle is based on the idea that everyone is of equal value. In the effort to secure one’s interests, the will commits to giving good for good and harm for harm.

This approach seems eminently fair. And yet Jesus, as seen in Matthew 5, guided people away from it. The reason seems to be that, under this principle, there was no way to show the grace of non-retaliation. Change does not allow for forgiveness. If your relationship is built on this principle you may need to consider why Jesus taught against it and encouraged them to espouse the principles of grace and love.

In the passage following the discussion of ‘eye for eye’, Jesus urged his disciples to accept the principle of love (Matthew 5:41–48).

The principle of love

Disciples are not only to love their neighbours but also their enemies. They are not to retaliate against those who persecute them but pray for them.

Jesus reminded people that there is no reward in only loving those who love you; there is reward in loving everyone, even if they harm you. The consequence is that you will be like your heavenly Father, able to love even those who offend you. This type of love is a prerequisite if one is to establish mutual love relationships.

In analysing this approach to relationships in terms of the heart, you can see the type of thinking involved. Relationships that are based on love are formulated on the principle: ‘do good to others no matter what they do to you’.

The values behind such an approach are radical—even revolutionary.

People are to value others above themselves. And the great irony is that, when both people in a relationship commit themselves to this way of thinking and set of values, each secures the interests of the other and the relationship brings peace and joy.



Taken from The Heart of Marriage by Michael Hill.

Image used with permission from Pierre Pocs.

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