“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.'” ~Romans 12:17-19
When people hurt me, my gut instinct, my sinful human instinct, is to hurt them back. When someone does something that causes me pain or causes pain to someone I love, I want that person to suffer some pain, too. Even when that person apologizes, even when that person asks for forgiveness, even after I forgive that person, my gut thinks, “but he needs to feel some pain, too. He can’t get away with this and nothing bad happen to him. It’s his fault this bad thing happened to me or this painful thing happened to my family; he needs to have something bad happen to him, too. He needs to feel this, too.”
We know that justice will be served. We know that God’s children will all be vindicated. We know that evildoers will be punished. But that is not your job. Or mine. That’s not our job. Judging and taking revenge and seeking that kind of justice is the Lord’s job. And it’s his job alone. As followers of Christ Jesus, we do not ever seek to punish the people who hurt us. Ever.
God is the perfect judge. He knows all things, he sees all things, and he has all righteous power. He is a perfectly just God who will not allow evil to go unpunished. So we can trust him. If we try to exact any kind of revenge, we’re trespassing into territory our God has reserved only for himself. So we let him handle it.
Surrounding the above text from Romans 12, Paul quotes from the teachings of Jesus to make his point:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (12:14).
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (12:17).
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (12:21).
We believe that God in Christ is ultimately going to make all things right. God is going to right all the wrongs and avenge all the evils. In the meantime, Christians respond to wrongdoing and to evil with kindness and love. This is one of the most distinctive things that sets Christianity apart from Islam and Buddhism and all the other world religions: we do not live tit-for-tat. Harming or killing our enemies is not an option for Christians. Our job is to love and forgive, to bless and to pray. Our job is to faithfully trust God. Trust God that he will judge and avenge.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” ~1 Peter 2:21-23
Our Lord Jesus did not retaliate. He didn’t seek to punish or act to avenge the injustices he suffered. Look at Jesus. He refuses to lift a finger in his own defense. He rebukes his followers who try to defend him with a sword. He doesn’t call ten thousand angels to destroy his enemies. He prays for their forgiveness. The people who are killing him — Jesus prays for their forgiveness.
I know this is hard. I know this is counter-cultural, counter-natural, almost anti-American. But this kind of thinking and acting, this way of living, is not just for Jesus. Loving our enemies and being kind to people who do you harm and leaving all retribution to God is not some unattainable ideal or something only for super Christians or the spiritually elite. This very hard thing is required of all who confess Jesus as Lord. When Jesus says “teaching them to obey all I have commanded,” this is part of it.
There are people who say they don’t believe in the God of the Bible, the God who judges and punishes people, because they believe in a God of love. Now, what makes them think God is love? Can they look at the world today and see anything that proves God is love? Can they see anything in history, is there any evidence out there, any proof at all at that God is love? Where does that come from? Where do people get the idea that God is love?
The Bible. The Bible tells us over and over again that God Almighty is a God of deep and eternal love. And the same Bible also tells us that because of God’s deep and abiding love, he will judge and avenge and ultimately make everything in the world right.