Vengeance Is Mine?
. . . God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well . . . 2 Thessalonians 1:6
When I was a child, I was shocked and hurt to discover that other kids thought mean was funny. I was quite sensitive to insults, and I just couldn’t understand why anyone would make fun of me. Mocking words were hurtful and in my hurt, I wanted vengeance. I wouldn’t have called it vengeance, but when someone made me feel bad, I wanted them to feel even worse. I was unfairly targeted, and I wanted justice. Unfortunately, I learned the same mocking behavior and looking back, I can now see how I, in turn, was mean to other kids. I didn’t believe that I was being hurtful at the time though. I just thought I was being funny. It’s different when I do it.
In being hurt, I wanted God to exact judgment on those who mocked others. The reality though, was that, if I got my wish, I would have been included in the group whom God would have had to smite. My sense of justice was warped. I wanted punishment when it came to the evil of others, but I wanted grace and mercy for me. It may be amusing looking back at 5-year-old me, but I’m not sure I’ve grown out of this. Still, when offended, it’s my first impulse to wish for vengeance. My persistent problem though, is that my idea of justice is still so skewed by my self-bias, that it’s not justice at all. It’s just Scott’s petty, childish revenge.
In today’s passage, Paul acknowledged how the Thessalonians were suffering at the hands of those who persecuted them for their faith. He taught that one day, all would be made right. One day, God would punish those who caused their suffering. One day, they would be comforted. One day, God would exact justice on those who deserved it. Vengeance was not something they were to seek, but rather, to remain right and pure, they needed to leave retribution up to God.
It’s not that God doesn’t want justice. It’s just that as individuals, we’re not capable of appropriately applying it. Paul said we must leave justice up to God. He wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t have courts or a legal system. He was just saying that as individuals, we must leave ultimate, eternal punishment up to God. When others do evil to us and we do evil in return, we become the thing we hate. When we sin in response to sin, we become part of the problem. As followers of Christ, we must always act rightly ourselves, leaving justice up to him.