Unmasking the Domestic Abuser in the Church

Desiring Justice or Craving Revenge? Two Very Different Things

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.


The Lord’s Other Prayer – Psalm 109


Division as an Abuse Tactic


  1. Still free


    Something I saw in my situation…… when I was not revengeful after the abuser physically assaulted me a number of times…. I noticed, among other things, I was all but completely dismissed by a number of people – even with my permanent physical injuries, etc. from the abuser’s physical violence. It was as if I wasn’t interested in revenge….. then they were 1) going to treat me as either unworthy of their support, or 2) pretend the physical violence and my subsequent injuries didn’t happen….. yes, saw this from claiming Christians and non alike ……..

    And years later…… I see it over and over and over again in other survivor stories.

    It’s almost as if the revenge lovers couldn’t / can’t sink their teeth into a juicy revenge-infested story, then they didn’t want to render genuine support at all. This trait was/is much like the abuser’s behavior…..

    In the end-life is better without their “support”…. And life without their counterproductive support is one more good thing that God brought out of the dust and ashes of something that was so completely woven in wickedness and evil.

  2. Beth

    I agree of your distinction between justice and vengeance. My understanding of “heaping burning coals on someone’s head” is that back in the times that was written, the burning coals were something that were needed against the cold. It was not a punishment, but a gift or something desirable. My current desire is to set the record straight with my adult children. I do not wish violence on my oppressor, but like Kyle Rittenhouse, I feel the need to ‘have my day in court and defend myself’.

  3. Lynn

    Too many in today’s church conflate praying for justice against the wicked – e.g. imprecatory prayers – as revenge. It’s not. It is the opposite. It is releasing our desire for revenge to God. We are trusting that God will avenge our injustice with his perfect justice. Imprecatory prayer is the offensive weapon granted to us us by God.

    It is the way to finding peace when no other justice is in sight.

    If you sow a lifetime of wicked behavior, you will reap a whirlwind of destruction. No amount of tears or remorse for getting caught will save the unrepentant sinner. Just ask Cain.

    Justice may seem slow by our own standards, but God’s timing is perfect. That is why we must persevere in prayer, bringing our petitions before God, asking for him to fulfill all that he has promised to do to the wicked. The eternal punishment that the wicked will receive will fit exactly the amount of evil they committed while on earth.

    Don’t succumb to the desire for revenge. It will ruin you, turning you into one who more closely resembles the one who harmed you than Christ. I know it can feel impossible, but for your own sake learn to let it go and give it to God. In the beginning you may need to be constantly releasing that desire for revenge to God on a minute by minute basis. It gets easier with time.

    Don’t let your desire for revenge rob you of the freedom offered to you in Christ. Whom the son sets free, is free indeed.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Thank you Lynn. Well put!

    • Carrie

      This is very helpful. It is a thin line which calls for deep discernment to which I hope to learn to navigate much better! Appreciate your wisdom.

  4. Jeff Crippen

    It really is very helpful. I have found it out myself – I had to learn.

  5. Wade

    How many times have we seen the victim’s desire for protection and justice get twisted into “you are unforgiving and vengeful”


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