This past Sunday’s sermon looked at God’s love in relation to God’s judgment. Many people feel the need to downplay or ignore what the Bible says about God’s judgment, especially his final and eternal judgment of sin and sinners. We worked through some of the reasons for these difficulties as well as some responses in the sermon.
But one topic that we only touched on only in passing, but which deserves much reflection is the relationship between God’s final judgment and our attempts to bring judgment and justice here and now. While some suggest that a belief in a God who violently punishes sin encourages people to similarly inflict vengeance, the Bible (and logic) suggests the opposite: that our ability to show mercy, to forgive, to move on from wrongs committed against us, actually depends on a confidence that God will ultimately bring perfect justice.
Paul writes in Romans, “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.” (Rom. 12:19)
This is not an encouragement to be unconcerned with justice in this life; the rest of the Bible is very clear Christians should be concerned with justice. Rather, Paul is encouraging believers to trust God for ultimate and final justice, rather than trying to take matters into their own hands.
There will be injustices in this life that are not justly and satisfactorily dealt with. You will be hurt and offended, perhaps neglected, dismissed, or abused. Criminals will get away with a slap on the wrist. Rulers will get away with unjust rule. Some countries will have utterly corrupt justice systems. Those with functioning justice systems won’t get everything right, won’t catch every criminal.
How do you respond? The more personally you are associated with an injustice, the more temptation there will be to retaliate, seek revenge, and respond to evil with evil. History displays numerous examples of such cycles of violence.
But those who remain confident that God will ultimately bring perfect justice, satisfactorily judge evildoers, and vindicate the righteous can resist this temptation towards violence and revenge. They don’t disregard evil; they don’t dismiss injustices. But they have the resources to show mercy, to forgive, to lovingly work for the good of others, even evildoers. Which at times may mean letting an offense slide, and at times may mean setting up boundaries, having firm conversations, even calling the cops and trusting God’s justice to work through the authorities.
This hope in God’s perfect justice and judgment enables us to obey his commands to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us, all the while yearning for God’s justice.
This logic of this biblical idea is expressed well by Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf, who speaks from an experience of living “under political oppression and economic depravation and endured life-shattering personal tragedies.” (wiki)
“My thesis is that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with many in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”
But the Bible is replete with evidence that God IS angry at injustice and deception, and is full of promises that he will make a final end of all evil and violence. For this, we should worship him. He is truly good. His coming kingdom is truly and completely good.