According to Paul, we should not take matters into our own hands. It’s not that there’s not justice to be served; there very well might be. But it’s not for you or I to administer it because we aren’t capable of doing so in a true and good and noble way. This belongs to the Lord. When we execute our own sense of vengeance, whether big or small, we are expressing our lack of faith that God can and will do it on His own. We are communicating instead that our way is better. But God is just. Justice will be served, and it will be served in a far better and more appropriate way that we could ever deliver it.
Jesus isn’t interested in the minimum. When we have enemies, we might reasonably just try and stay away from them, but Jesus won’t settle for that. He calls us to love them. When we are wondering how many people we reasonably have to love and care for, Jesus won’t settle for that. He calls us to recognize every person in our pathway as a neighbor. When we are wondering just how many of the commands in Scripture reasonably apply to us, Jesus won’t settle for that. He calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him.
No, Jesus isn’t interested in the minimum of anything. In so many ways, Jesus calls us to the unexpected. Unexpected love, unexpected sacrifice, unexpected loyalty. So it is when we come to the subject of revenge. Here’s how He put it:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Matt. 5:38-42).
We might reasonably assume that we can give a little payback here and there to those who have wronged us, but here again Jesus pushes us well beyond the minimum. According to Him, not only should we not pay others back for what they’ve done, but we should so forego our need for revenge that we move into generosity. And boy, that’s a hard thing, because we feel that desire down deep in our souls.
We have been treated unfairly, maligned unjustly, and pushed down unkindly, and someone ought to pay for it. How do we deal with that deep down desire for revenge? We fight it with truth – specifically, with truth about who God is. Here are four such truths to snuff out that flickering flame of vengeance in our hearts:
1. God is active.
Saul had been wreaking havoc on the early church. There was a literal trail of bodies in his wake, and he was just getting wound up. But that all changed with a dramatic encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road and the great enemy of the church became her most ardent advocate.
I’m reminded of how, in those first days after his conversion, the early Christians did not know whether to trust him or not. Who could blame them?