May 13, 2014.
Have you ever wondered why revenge is a bad thing? Instead of just accepting it as a sin, have you thought about the meaning behind it? I suppose we could do well to do this for many sins, as we might better understand the character of God in this manner. The Almighty didn’t just make a set of rules for us to have no fun. He isn’t measuring our desire for him via how much pleasure and satisfaction we are willing to give up. He made us to enjoy the world around us, but we, as we only we can as a fallen people, have skewed that reality. Can we make sense of our lives and wants?
I am not going to tackle all of that today, though anyone interested may do well to explore the meaning behind God’s commandments further. Today, I will just deal with the opening question: Why is revenge wrong? What can we make about passages like this:
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 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.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Why? Sometimes its easy to say, “Oh yeah, I get that” from a distance, so lets make this personal. Take someone you love, the closest person to you whether that be your Mom or Day, sibling or significant other. Now, let’s say some one has taken them and done something horrific to them: shot them, tortured them, or sexually abused them. You stand powerless while this is going on. How do you feel? If you are like most human beings, you are no doubt enraged. You may be thinking “I would kill them,” and I believe you have a justification for your anger (though this does not justify any action that follows from anger). What do you want?
“I want justice!” you may say. But is that what you really want? Do you want justice or revenge? I believe there is a subtle, but important difference in these two concepts. If you were locked in a room with the perpetrator for two hours and could give them any “justice” you wanted, what would you do? If you had an answer for that (other than perhaps “Nothing, I will let the court decide their due punishment”) then I think you may want revenge. Don’t worry too much, I would have had an answer too.
But this is the difference between us and God. God is fully righteous, but we are righteous only in our own eyes. That is why God is the only one who is capable of unbiased judgement. Listen to what He says through Isaiah:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found;call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way,and the unrighteous man his thoughts;let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God thinks differently that we do. He thinks higher that we do, and is the definition of justice. Why is it that we are to turn the other cheek? Why must we bless those who persecute us? Why must we repay evil with good? Well, there are probably many reasons, but I believe this would be up there at the top: Because we would mess it up. We don’t know the first thing about justice when things become personal. Why do you think that a jury consists of peers who have no personal connections to the defendant or plaintiff? Because their decision would undoubtedly be biased. When things become personal, our judgment is blurred. That is pretty much a guarantee.
Think about it. You would want the cruelest punishment for the perpetrator above. When you hear of a manslaughter case, we cry for the death penalty. But when we mess up, it really isn’t as big of a deal as you think it is. I think a good example that isn’t as extreme is this: When someone flys past you on the interstate, what do you immediately think? “He’s crazy! Where are the cops when you need them?” But when you see those flashing lights in your rearview mirror, uh-oh. “Officer, I didn’t know” or “I hope he doesn’t give me a ticket, I wasn’t going that fast.” That is our judgement. That is our justice.
So how is God different? I wanted to do this post based a passage I read in Ezekiel.
“And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?”
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. In fact, He wishes to see all the unrighteous turn from their evil way and repent. He wants all to dwell with him eternally. He made us for pleasure, not for punishment. Peter says this in his epistle:
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
(2 Peter 3:9)
And that is the good news. If you choose to accept it. There is rest for the wicked, if they turn from their wicked way. No one is so dirty that he or she cannot be cleansed with the blood of the Lamb. No one. God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Why will you die, O Israel? Why will we die today? Let us turn to The Lord. He is waiting, standing at the door. Will you come?
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”
Suggested Daily Reading: Isaiah 55, 57, Ezekiel 33, Hosea 3, 11.
Grace and peace.