Saturday, March 14, 2009

God's Vengeance

1Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, 2 saying: "There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. 3 Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, 'Get justice for me from my adversary.' [The King James Version hsays, " Avenge me of mine adversary."] 4 And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, 'Though I do not fear God nor regard man, 5 yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.'"
6 Then the Lord said, "Hear what the unjust judge said. 7 And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? 8 I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:2-8)

Will the Lord really avenge you upon your enemies? Yes. Yes, He will, perhaps not now, perhaps not in this life. But He assuredly will.

But we need to be very, very careful to give a Christian meaning to these words. Specifically, who is my enemy, if I am a Christian? And for what sort of vengeance am I to pray?

St. Paul teaches us this: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places]." (Ephesians 6:12) In other words, our true enemies are spiritual ones, demons, temptations, passions. As long as we understand that these are our only true enemies, then it matters much less what we think God's vengeance upon them will be.

It's when it comes to human "enemies" we need to be far more cautious about what we mean by vengeance.

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
27 So he answered and said, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"
28 And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:25-29)

Jesus replies to this legalist by telling a parable in which the neighbor is -- gasp! -- the worst of enemies, a Samaritan!

In other words, we are to love not only our friends but also our "enemies" as ourselves. In other words, the Christian considers no one an enemy, but is good to all and prays for good things for all, and in this, becomes like his Heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:45-48).

Yet there are indeed those who set themselves against us, who do us harm and injustice. It is perfectly Christian to pray that my name be cleared, that an unfairness be righted, that I be protected, that goodness prevail. In fact, all that sort of thing is comprehended in the Lord's Prayer, when we pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven."

But what is not meant, what is not in the least Christ-like, what is thoroughly pagan and thoroughly wicked, is to pray that God would do to such people what our dark, sinful passions make us wish we ourselves could do! God isn't there to do my dirty work. I am commanded to forgive; and to take the attitude that, "God will get you so I don't have to," is far from forgiveness! If, instead of forgiving, I harbor in my heart the desire that another human being meet with harm or evil, then I not only am not being pious, I am actually locking myself away from God's forgiveness toward me. "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," we pray. How can we pray this and at the same time hope God will wreak our nasty desires upon someone else? Those very desires, in the end, will torment not them, but us who hold them. This is what Jesus tells us will happen to us, "if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses." (Matthew 18:35)

P.S.) It is equally unforgiving and wicked to take satisfaction in the idea that my neighbor has received punishment even vicariously; that is, in Christ's suffering and death upon the Cross. That is a hostile attitude, not a Christian one.


Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

When I'm tempted by such thoughts, I try to keep in mind that "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Rom 12.19, quoting Deut 32.35). That is, vengeance isn't ours at all, not something that we control or have any legitimate concern in. It's one of those things like making sure a galaxy spins the right direction: it's not our job, and if it were, we couldn't do it right. Especially, it's not my job, and I wouldn't be able to do it at all, much less well.

Thanks again for the ever-thought-provoking posting!