Summary: This study looks at the difference between personal vengeance and God appointed Government vengeance. The Bible commands us to take care of ourselves, take care of our enemies and then take care of business.
Vengeance According to Scripture
In the wake of the recent bombings of the World Trade Centers and other terrorist attacks, many moral dilemmas have come to the forefront. Can we stand by idly after 5,000 people have been murdered without a cause? Can we forgive the men who ordered these murders, vow to continue murdering and have a history of mass murdering? Are we allowed to return fire? Does God avenge, or do we? Is God judging America, or is He calling America to judge wicked men?
I will state up front that I cannot see any examples in the scripture where we are told to allow a murderer to continue. We are commanded to stand against evil, but with very specific guidelines. If we become like our enemy, how can we be judges against our enemy? If we don’t fight against wickedness, what is the result? We do have many modern history examples. If you look across history, you see one pattern that stands tall. Not one tyrant has plagued the world without the apathy of those who should have stood against him. Hitler rose to power without opposition. Deitrick Bonhoffer was the only pastor in Germany who openly opposed Hitler. Hitler preached hate and used hate to paint a rosy picture of Germany’s glorious future. Where were the Christians? They either sided with Hitler and believed they were enlightened, or they were silent. Hitler rose to power ONLY because he was unopposed until he used his power base to trouble the world. Evil never stays behind its boundaries. If it is allowed, it always spreads.
Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to peace is to stop those whose goal it is to take away peace. Jesus said, ‘blessed are the peacemakers for they shall see God’. Who is the peacemaker? In the glory days of Israel, the warrior King David was used by God to give Israel peace by defeating the troubling nations around them. David killed Goliath and defeated countless enemies of God through battle. Yet David was still a man after God’s heart. It was David who wrote in Psalms, “The LORD will give strength to His people; The LORD will bless His people with peace”. He also wrote, “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it”. God gives strength to the righteous to stand against evil and establish peace. Peace is not the absence of war. People in fear have no peace. Look back at the great tyrants and murderers in history. Wickedness always grows and spreads as it is tolerated. When wicked men become strong, how do we stand against them without becoming like them?
Doesn’t the Bible say that vengeance belongs to God? We have all heard or have read the Bible’s command that vengeance belongs to God. However, in Romans 13 we are taught to honor governing authorities and that it is government’s God appointed role to uphold righteousness and judge wickedness. The Bible tells us that authority is appointed by God and this government is God’s minister who executes His judgment and wrath against evildoers. The Bible makes a clear distinction between personal vengeance and governing vengeance.
I do not have the right to place myself in God’s role. I don’t have the right to judge and execute wrath against anyone. Does an individual have the right to execute justice against an evildoer? No. However, a government has been appointed as a minister of that responsibility. If this were not true, then the Bible would be a book of anarchy. Without governing accountability there is no rule of law, and wickedness always abounds. It is irrational and unbiblical to allow evil to oppress and destroy. We also must insure that we are not the ones being judged. In the Bible, we see that God frequently uses wicked authority to judge those who abandon righteousness. Evil only stands when righteousness is abandoned. Before anyone has a right to demand justice, they must first judge themselves.
Take Care of Yourself
We have all heard 2 Chronicles 7:14 quoted:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
The emphasis people put on this passage is almost always on prayer, but we see much more than prayer in this passage. There must be humility. There must be self-examination leading to repentance. We must take care of ourselves before we are in any position to address the sins of an enemy. Where is humility? I keep hearing people say, ‘We are strong; we are united’, but I don’t hear anyone saying, ‘We have sinned; we repent; we need God’s strength’. Most people have lost the ability to see their own sinfulness. Most churches today teach as though it were a sin to point out that we need to deal with sin. Doesn’t preaching against sin heap guilt on people? On the contrary, sin only produces guilt if we refuse to surrender it to Jesus Christ who paid for it on the cross. People feel guilty when they love sin more than God’s mercy. The closer I get to God, the more my sin is exposed and the more freedom I have as I surrender those areas of my life to Jesus. If we are not walking with God, we are separated from God. Before God can hear our prayers, heal our land, and avenge our enemies, we must first allow Him to purify our hearts and also surrender our ways to Him.