“The good man will carry out his duties, without fear or turmoil; he’ll act in a manner worthy of a good man, such that he’ll do nothing unworthy of a man. My father is being killed; I’ll defend him, He has been killed; I’ll avenge him–but because it’s right, not because I’m grieved…To get angry on behalf of one’s kin is the mark of a weak mind, not a loyal one. It is this that is noble and worthy; for a defender to act on behalf of parents, children, and friends with his duty leading him on–willingly, judiciously and with foresight, not driven and raging. There is no emotion more eager for vengeance than anger, and for that reason, none less suited to the taking of vengeance.”
It’s natural for certain tragic circumstances to make us mad, that is, to send us into a madness of anger or grief. But a good man keeps duty in mind over madness. There’s no escaping the initial reaction to an injury or injustice done against us. But we can’t let that reaction drive our actions. An enraged mind has no desire to consider the nuance of a situation. What if the person caused me harm unintentionally? What if I took it completely the wrong way?
James 1:19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Being slow to anger allows time for us to act according to what is right and not according to what we feel in the moment is right. Emotions cloud judgement so we can’t act when our emotions are at their highest. It’s right to seek justice if someone kills your father. But to let grief seek out revenge is not right. In Romans 12 Paul writes, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” When we seek our own vengeance, we’re falling into the oldest sin, to try and make ourselves God. Vengeance is God’s, not ours. We cannot take what’s not ours, especially when it belongs to God.
Now, this does not mean we cannot act in accordance with God’s law and make ourselves the catalyst for God’s justice by trying a murderer and putting him to death. But this is exactly what Seneca is saying. We seek to enact God’s vengeance “because it’s right, not because I’m grieved.” It can’t come from us. It must come from the truth of God in His Word. This is our duty as good men, it can’t be the lashing out of injured sinners. It’s a response, not a reaction.