#GrowWise. The Counterintuitive War of Wisdom


January 25, 2015

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Proverbs 25:21-22  (read the whole chapter)

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
    if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
    and the Lord will reward you.


evil for good

What’s wise about treating your enemies well? My enemy does not have my best interest in mind. In fact, my enemies want me to fail. A hungry and thirsty enemy sounds like a vulnerable enemy. It sounds like a scenario in which I might have the upper hand. It may provide an opportunity to defeat my enemy. That would be good, right? Neutralizing an enemy makes sense doesn’t it? Wouldn’t everyone expect this? Don’t we want to overcome and even do away with our enemies?

Despite all this, wisdom teaches us to care for our enemies; to give them food and drink in response to their needs.

We get some clues from Paul’s use of this very text in his letter to the Romans:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge,my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21

When I try to overcome evil with evil here’s the outcome:

1. When I give my enemy a taste of his own medicine I am the one who gets sick.

2. When I repay bad for bad I escalate the conflict

3. When I retaliate against my enemy by fighting fire with fire, I do irreversible damage and diminish the chances of any productive outcome.

When I try to overcome evil with good it leads to a different outcome:

1. When I return good for evil I avoid the infection brought on by the toxicity of evil.

2. When I repay bad with good I create the possibility of de-escalating the conflict.

3. Responding to evil with good is actually a subversive form of retaliation. It is an offensive tactic in that it has the effect of “heaping burning coals on their head.” When your enemy wrongs you and you retaliate it justifies your enemy by reaffirming their decision. When you respond to bad with good it actually has the effect of “shaming” your enemy. This is what the reference about burning coals means. It can have the effect of causing them to reevaluate their decision and changing the outcome altogether.

The wisdom of repaying evil with good is it creates the only possibility for evil to be truly overcome. Evil cannot be overcome by evil. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Hate cannot defeat hate.

It’s why wisdom wages the counterintuitive war of Love.

And is this not our story. . . . the Divine response of good in the face of evil. . . . . the story of the Cross?

I’ll see you tomorrow in Proverbs 26.


J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at jd.walt@seedbed.com.

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  1. Hey Mr. Walt,

    This is a hard thing! My friends and I have been debating overcoming evil with good, and each of us value Jesus’ teachings on the hill above all things, and still there seems to be some questions that are not easy to answer. This daily text seems to be the perfect opportunity for me to pick at your brain a bit; I would really value your opinion on this.

    For me, on a personal level, on my continued journey of learning to live my life as Jesus’ apprentice, the way is clear–though difficult at times. Also, in small social groups (especially Christian), the way seems positively clear. However, on a larger corporate level when faced with absolute evil, and how we deal with it, opinions are all over the place. Specifically, militant Islam, and the wave of death and destruction it is pouring out on the earth, its spread, etc. My mind in these debates often reflect on Dietrich Bonhoeffer; his struggle internally, and his outward actions. My thoughts are racing; I think I’ll stop here and see if I can begin a dialogue with you.

    Thank you,