Vengeance is Mine

Romans 12:

19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God's wrath, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay," says the Lord.

20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(NET Bible®)

Christians should forgive at least some of the crimes against themselves; however, calling for the government to forgive everything is problematic. I have given some suggestions on how to optimize mercy when it comes to crimes against others.

But what about crimes that have no earthly victim; i.e. personal vices? What about sins against God? Should the government do something about idol worshippers, mediums, witches, New Age bookstores, psychic hotlines, astrology columnists, homosexuals, Sabbath breakers, etc.?

Matthew 7:

1 "Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive.

Romans 2:

1 Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. For on whatever grounds you judge another, you condemn yourself, because you who judge practice the same things.

2 Now we know that God's judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.

3 And do you think, whoever you are, when you judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape God's judgment?

(NET Bible®)

Clearly, God can defend himself, and the quote above reminds us of this. That said, in the Holy Land, human agencies were tasked to enforce laws against such sins. This was the Holy Land, a land set aside to show the world the benefits of proper worship and justice. To make this demonstration apparent, the earthly price of disobedience was magnified as were the earthly benefits of obedience. Contrast was further enhanced by leaving the surrounding nations free to worship idols and such.

Christians are called to be a holy people, to be a light to the heathen. As such Christians are supposed to obey the Law voluntarily, from the heart, even while being surrounded by sinners. This is a difficult task. It is very tempting to wield the sword when the surrounding heathen and atheists are having fun doing naughty things. This impulse has resulted in witch burnings, forcible baptisms, and violent crusades. It gives us laws against prostitution and recreational drugs today – along with the criminal gangs that are thereby subsidized.

Jesus called for his followers to forgive sins against God as well as sins against themselves.

Luke 16:

1 Jesus also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who was informed of accusations that his manager was wasting his assets.

2 So he called the manager in and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Turn in the account of your administration, because you can no longer be my manager.'

3 Then the manager said to himself, 'What should I do, since my master is taking my position away from me? I'm not strong enough to dig, and I'm too ashamed to beg.

4 I know what to do so that when I am put out of management, people will welcome me into their homes.'

5 So he contacted his master's debtors one by one. He asked the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

6 The man replied, 'A hundred measures of olive oil.' The manager said to him, 'Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write fifty.'

7 Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' The second man replied, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' The manager said to him, 'Take your bill, and write eighty.'

8 The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their contemporaries than the people of light.

(NET Bible®)

In a previously cited parable, a steward is held accountable for his debts to his master because the steward held his own debtors accountable. In this parable a steward is forgiven his debts because he cooked the books to reduce the debts owed by others to his master. This is quite a tale. The master forgives despite the fact that he is doubly cheated.

I detect opportunity! Forgiving others for sins against me is expensive. Forgiving others for sins against God can produce earthly rewards along with divine forgiveness. We could have fewer prisoners to feed and contain, fewer AIDS victims to care for, lower taxes, safer streets, shorter commutes, fewer terrorists, and more were we to dial back some vice laws.

Yes, vice can produce a cost to society. And in some cases resorting to force to clean up an alcoholic or drug abuser is the merciful option. But a mercy-driven set of policies would be much different – and cheaper – than what we have today.

Let’s wind up the chapter with Jesus giving us an example of the principle in action:

John 8:

3 The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them

4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery.

5 In the law Moses commanded us to stone to death such women. What then do you say?"

6 (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him, so that they could bring charges against him.) Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger.

7 When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, "Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her."

8 Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground.

9 Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.

10 Jesus stood up straight and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?"

11 She replied, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more."

(NET Bible®)