Vengeance is Mine
Not long ago the text about Vengeance is Mine came to my mind in an entirely different light. I decided to sit down and explore this further to see what would flush out from my research. What I have found has really changed a lot of my thinking recently.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." (Heb. 10:30)
Both of these references go back to the original text quoted from the Old Testament.
'Vengeance is Mine, and retribution, in due time their foot will slip; for the day of their calamity is near, and the impending things are hastening upon them.' (Deut. 32:35)
The way that we normally think of vengeance almost always involves wrath in some way and is mentioned specifically in the first verse quoted above. When we think of vengeance and our desires for vengeance or retribution, it is almost always in the context of anger, bitterness, wrath and a desire for a form of 'justice' that satisfies our limited thinking about what is fair. Given that setting I would like to introduce a few more verses that talk about God's wrath in this context.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. (Romans 1:18)
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:6)
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36)
There is a very great deal that can be learned just from these few texts. One of the most noticeable factors is that of deception connected with God's wrath. But I want to go on to include some verses connected to the other part of those original verses, the part about God repaying.
Do not say, "I will repay evil"; wait for the Lord, and He will save you. (Proverbs 20:22)
As I have been observing for several years now, our typical definitions of terms and phrases in religion are almost always suspect and very often quite misleading. When it comes to vengeance and wrath and repayment this could not be more true. Nearly everything I have heard all my life about these words in connection with God has been full of error and casts a very dark concept of God in most minds.
To note this truth, let me just include the very next verse that follows one of these first verses that I quoted and see how radically it shifts the focus of what we normally think about when it comes to vengeance and repayment.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD." (Romans 12:19-20)
This is where it starts to become clear that the way God treats people in vengeance may be totally different and even opposite of what we have in mind when we want vengeance. Let me drop in a few more verses along this line.
If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Proverbs 25:21-22)
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)
You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:38-48)
But this was not the main point that I wanted to make to start with. While I firmly believe that God's wrath and vengeance are most likely quite opposite from what we usually think about in wrath and vengeance, it was yet another look at the first verses quoted above that really grabbed my attention.
First of all I want to point out the feelings and desires that most of us have when we experience an intense desire for vengeance. It usually involves something very bad, something very painful that has happened to us, some violation, some abuse that someone has committed against us which causes a deep desire for revenge to swell up within our heart. We may not like it, we may try to suppress or deny it, but still it lurks there whether openly or repressed into our subconscious.
We want that person to be hurt at least as much as they have hurt us. We want to 'get even'. We want 'justice' as we call it sometimes. We want revenge and we want them to really know how bad they made us feel in order for them to understand how much they have violated us. Somehow we innately feel that this will in some way balance some imaginary scale of justice for us and make us feel better some way.
We may attempt to do that either directly or indirectly, depending on the circumstances and the availability of opportunities. We may take them to court or just gossip about them. We may maneuver circumstances around over time to create an opportunity for us to strike back unexpectedly. We may do all sorts of things to seek revenge. But one thing is certain; it is human nature to desire to get revenge whenever we have been hurt badly enough.
At this point I want to ask a very significant question.
Did Jesus die for that person whom we want to inflict vengeance upon?
And what does that really mean?
What I am starting to understand about the cross of Jesus is having a powerful impact now on what I am starting to see in these verses. Jesus did not just suffer and die on a cross in order to satisfy some sort of legal requirement in heaven to get us off the hook about the consequences of sin. And He definitely was not appeasing an angry God in heaven and blocking Him from inflicting horrible tortures and punishments against us by stepping in between. Both of these ideas are very popular in religion but are sadistic and sick and distort the real truth about our loving heavenly Father that Jesus came to reveal.
However, what Jesus did do on the cross was to very literally experience all of the pain, the guilt, the consequences and emotional torture that every sinner who has ever lived has incurred or has even felt as a result of their evil choices. (see Isaiah 53) And making this directly applicable to my situation, that person who has hurt me that I want to get revenge upon – the very pain that I want to inflict upon him has already been felt by Jesus quite literally on the cross and was part of what caused His death there. Jesus already took the revenge, the pain, the punishments that I feel should be inflicted on my opponent. And because of that Jesus claims full ownership of the sins that this person has committed against me whether this person is yet repentant or not.
Now, take a look again at this text in this light and see if you begin to see what I am seeing.
VENGEANCE IS MINE!
And we always thought that these verses were saying that someday God was going to let our enemies have it and give them what we think they deserve. But that is not at all what this is saying. What God is saying here is that He is now the rightful owner of all the sins of the world due to the death of Jesus on the cross. Therefore if I feel any impulses to inflict revenge on someone, Christ is stepping in between us and saying, “Give it to me. I died for this person's sins and if there is any punishment to be given make me suffer it. Do not inflict it on him because he is no longer the owner of it. I took his place and therefore I have the right to stand in his place and let you use me as your target for revenge if you feel so compelled to administer it.”
That revelation has left me reeling in shock and conviction. I no longer have any right to seek revenge against anyone who hurts me because Jesus has taken over ownership of their sins. Of course it makes me very excited when I think about Him taking responsibility for my sins and intervening to take my punishments and vengeance for the things I have done to hurt others and even God. But it feels considerably different when it is someone else's turn to have Jesus intervene on their behalf and when the offense involves pain they have caused me.
And the second part of this; what does that imply, the part about repayment?
Well, most of us are not very eager or convinced about the kinds of repayment God may have in mind against those who have committed horrendous crimes against either us or against others we care about. We still believe in a kind of justice that demands an eye for an eye etc. Yet God's kind of justice seems most unfair when we initially begin to perceive the real nature of it. It just doesn't seem fair that those who have caused so much pain to others should not be made to suffer significantly themselves. If this does not take place our hearts feel cheated, we feel that God is not really just and that our version of justice is much better than His.
So it really comes down to who we are going to believe. Are we going to embrace God's strange an many times quite unpalatable ways of repaying evil and inflicting vengeance? Or are we going to insist that God do things the way we feel they should be done? But then, if we insist on our version of justice we suddenly find that we ourselves are going to have to be included in that version of justice and we open ourselves up to being on the receiving end of our version of retribution, vengeance and punishment the way we are not so keen to experience ourselves.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)