Rom 12:19-21 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.” (20) To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Rev 6:9-10 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. (10) They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Desiring God’s justice is a good and right thing. In fact, Christ said that His people are characterized by a hunger and thirst for righteousness. I think that righteousness longed for includes divine justice for us via the judgment of the wicked:
2Th 1:6-8 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, (7) and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels (8) in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
But that final judgment is effected by the Lord, not by us. We are not, as Paul tells us, to avenge ourselves. Vengeance is not ours to exercise – we are to leave it to the Lord. We look for it. We pray for it. But we are not to become veangeful people. We can exercise our rights under the law and call the police or report an assault. We can testify in court and even work to have an evildoer prosecuted. But that is seeking justice. It is much different than craving revenge.
Recently I was talking to a good friend who has survived years of evil abuse and betrayal. She told me that she has found peace by leaving justice against her abusers to the Lord. She said that she knows examples of other victims who are characterized by a desire for revenge. And here is the problem with going down that road:
If you seek revenge, you will be overcome with evil.
We are to overcome evil, not be overcome by it. The way we overcome it is not by repaying evil for evil, but by repaying it with good. This is not contrary to a desire for justice. Not at all. I am not certain what “heaping burning coals on their head” means, but I suspect it has something to do with adding conviction, accountability, and ultimately apart from repentance, more severe judgment when Christ returns.
If we crave revenge, we are craving something that we would do ourselves. Do not avenge yourself, is how Paul puts it. Leave vengeance to the Lord. If you try to be an avenger, you will not be able to handle evil – it will handle you.
What does this look like? It translates into a person who is angry. Who hates. Who is not at peace. Who is unsafe themselves to be friends with. Who, as they are increasingly overcome by evil, become abusive themselves.
So many people today are taking their theology from entertainment channels. Movies are filled with the drama of Avengers. Of people who are sorely assaulted and wronged, so they decide to be as tough as nails, pick up a weapon, and go get revenge. This has a very wide appeal to people and they try to emulate in real life what they see in fiction. They have been wronged, so like Charles Bronson they launch out with a Death Wish, or like Keanu Reeves as John Wicks they in some way set out to destroy and kill everyone who wronged them. Violence characterizes them increasingly as they morph into their false god of revenge.
I know domestic abuse victims who are in this very trap. They want revenge. And when you allow yourself to be taken over by this craving for vengeance, you become the center of your world. Everything slopes toward you and how you were wronged and how your abuser needs to pay up – now. And woe to anyone who gets in your way – collateral damage, you see.
Where is faith in Christ in all this? When we choose to obey the Lord and leave veangence to Him (it is His all along, not ours), we are exercising faith in His Word. He has promised to repay, and you can bet that He knows how to exercise perfect veangence upon the wicked – we do not. We desire justice and pray for it. The imprecatory Psalms are our prayers. But veangence? We leave that to the Lord.
Are you someone who has traveled down the revenge road? If so, I can assure you that you are not experiencing the Lord’s peace. You are angry and you are looking for payback. You are being overcome with evil. Stop. Stop right where you are and turn around 180 degrees. Go back. Get off that revenge road and get back in step with Christ.