Yeesh. It’s just getting uglier and uglier in this third quarter of Lent.
You know what I fantasize about? Kind of a lot? My books and blog taking off, going viral, and getting lots of popular attention, at which time the editors, agents, and publishers who for years had their interns send me form rejection letters start calling to offer me contracts. The most giddily gratifying part of that daydream is when I say, “Thank you for your interest, but this isn’t really what I’m looking for right now.” Click.
Vengeance. Served on the rocks, with a twist.
Revenge is getting somebody back. Balancing the scales. Serving justice as you see fit.
Don’t we all love a good revenge story? The Count of Monte Cristo. The Cask of Amontillado. The Italian Job. We revel in seeing the villain get his desserts. It satisfies our sense of justice.
If God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and he has put both of those traits (or desires) inside us, they must be good things. Vengeance in my own hands, however, is not. God never, in all 45 mentions of vengeance that I found in Scripture, releases us to exact our own. That is his purview, and something wrested from him only by the wicked. So vengeance itself isn’t wrong—God says he will take it on his and our enemies. But by appropriating it for myself, I do wrong. Why is that?
Probably because I don’t know enough to do it well or righteously. When I remember that my understanding of other people and situations is gravely limited, and when I recognize that the extent of my power is meager compared to God’s, both the kind of justice I would choose and the carrying out of such a sentence are erroneous and/or pathetic compared to what God would do.
In fact, Proverbs 24:17-18 tells us not even to “rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” Yikes. That’s not even an issue between God and my enemy, but between God and me. He doesn’t want me to gloat, or even be pleased to see his vengeance come on my adversary. As always, the issue is primarily about what’s going on in my heart.
If I could honestly feel pity when another person suffers the wrath of God—if I could genuinely pray for him or her to be made right with God and be released from God’s vengeance—that would be evidence of forgiveness, and of a pure heart. That would please God.
Good grief, I’ve got so far to go.
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You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 19:18
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