Romans 12:19. 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.”
The desire for revenge is strong in all of us. If we’re honest we see it every day in tons of small ways. Cut off in traffic? – honk horn, mutter an obscenity, drive faster. Gossip spread about you? – spread gossip about them, ignore and unfriend on social media. Feelings hurt? – hold the world’s longest grudge, give silent treatment, side eye… And by all means keep that ongoing record of wrongs.
And what about the much more serious ways that we have been hurt? Sexual abuse. Rejection by a spouse. Lies and manipulations. And even murder. I have seen people in my church live through all of these and more. I have seen miraculous examples of people who have forgiven and turned vengeance over to God.
I also see people that are struggling every day to live without giving in to the temptation for vengeance.
Just today (Sunday) I had a conversation with a young man in my church. He is in middle school. A couple weeks ago he told me that another student had been making life difficult for him. Today he said that things at school had been better, but he didn’t think it was fair that he should have to forgive and try to be nice to the other student. Needless to say we had a good conversation about grace versus fairness, the gospel, and the power to forgive. Tomorrow will prove whether the light will overcome the darkness in the halls and classrooms of his school.
We love revenge (Batman, True Grit, Inigo Montoya – “prepare to die”). We love revenge because it feels like justice. And yes we should love justice. But revenge is twisted justice. It is justice without the hope of righteousness.
We must confront this dark side of ourselves. The darkness that seeks retribution. The darkness that resists forgiveness. The darkness that wants “fairness” without grace. Without reconciliation. Without restored righteousness.
We love revenge stories. Why? Because they feel like justice. But what about restoration?
To do this (this may sound strange) we must trust the wrath of God.
God’s wrath is his settled opposition to sin (Tim Keller). God’s wrath flows from his love. Because God loves us, he hates sin. God will destroy all evil in this life and prepare us for the life beyond. In this way God’s wrath is our greatest hope. And we must trust this hope. So much so that we completely give up on punishing evil ourselves. As Paul says, we must leave it. Leave it to God. The Word of God promises that he will repay. He repaid Egypt. He repaid Babylon. He repaid sin and death and hell.
But we must also trust God’s grace. God will always fight for restorative justice first. He will display his mercy and forgiveness in order to let grace do its life changing work in even the vilest offender (Paul for example, or Nebuchadnezzar, or the thief on the cross, or you). This means God’s timing may be slower than we want. God’s patience is at work. Is yours?
The cross of Christ is where God’s wrath and grace collide. The cross proves that God takes sin and evil very seriously. But it also proves that God wants to spare evil doers while annihilating evil. Just like he did with us.
In Christ your sins have been banished forever. Your evil has been forgiven. You have been declared righteous. Do we actually believe that we have the same power? That we can forgive the offenses of others? That we can “banish” their sins – east from west style? That we can seek to restore them to righteousness? The answer is yes. But Christ must be your peace. He must be your hope. He must be your righteousness. If not, you will live on the “hamster wheel of revenge” (Justin Holcomb). Plotting to destroy others while only destroying yourself.