“I don’t get mad, I get even,” is what we used to say on the playground, trying to sound tough as we plotted our revenge. The Bible, however, has a different approach to the matter. “Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you,” it says.
But then it also says something else. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
What’s this? God will seek the revenge? We should ‘leave room for God’s wrath’ and let God repay the evil? Isn’t God supposed to be all-loving and forgiving? What’s all this talk about wrath and revenge?
First of all, the Bible is indeed clear– if someone does me harm, I should not try to get even. Instead, I am to return good for evil and leave the paybacks, if there are to be any, to God. In that same section it says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everybody… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good… and if your enemy is hungry, feed him…”
These are nice ideals, but it is fair to ask, does any of this work in the real world? Or do we just pay lip service to these kinds of nice thoughts on Sunday morning, knowing full well that it will have little application to our life on Monday morning? Will thieves stop robbing us if we don’t stop them? Will murderers cease killing just because we treat them nicely? Will ISIS stop beheading people if we ask them politely? Won’t evil run amok if we leave it unrestrained and unpunished?
The answer is, of course it will. Sinners won’t stop sinning out of the goodness of their hearts, because for one thing, our hearts aren’t good. So how can we who live in the real world follow Paul’s advice to never avenge ourselves, advice which seems so other-worldly and impractical? If we don’t stop evil, who will?
The answer to that question is in the Bible verse I began with. Who will stop evil? God will. God will stop the evil. And how does God do that? Well, there are a few ways he does that, but this meditation will be about how God deals with evil through his designated representatives. God’s designated representatives in the world to fight evil are described in Romans chapter 13, where Paul writes: “Be subject to the governing authorities, because they are God’s servants, established by Him, to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” There’s that word wrath again, and Paul is telling us here is that one of the ways God brings his wrath upon the wrongdoer is through the governing authorities. In other words, the government has something to do with stopping evil, by God’s own design. (continued…)